It's a Wii and Nintendo culture, and too many Minnesota children are losing touch with the real world beyond the family room and big-screen TV.
Studies show our kids fish less often, find parks tedious and even fear spending time in the woods. Camping is becoming a lost art, and more adults and children are rejecting outdoor recreation in favor of virtual entertainment or organized indoor activities. Bird watching doesn't come up a lot on MySpace.
In his book "Last Child in the Woods,'' author Richard Louv argues that nature is so important to physical health that its absence should be considered a disorder. "Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional sickness,'' Louv explained in a recent issue of US News and World Report.
The trend is especially troubling in a state with such a rich history in environmental awareness and conservation. It's up to older Minnesotans -- the parents and grandparents of the gamers and IMers -- to pull the plug and get the kids outside, even if the first adventure is a quick visit to Minnehaha Falls. You don't need to take a Boundary Waters trip to enjoy nature in Minnesota.
One of the state's newest and most spectacular tourist attractions is the National Eagle Center, which opened in May 2007 on the banks of the Mississippi in Wabasha. The center provides great views of the river, and most days visitors will see dozens of resting and feeding eagles from its observation decks and nearby trails. It also is home to three captive birds -- Harriet, Angel and Columbia -- whose feedings and other antics are worth the modest price of admission.
Some of the best eagle-watching in Minnesota happens in March. The center hosts its annual Soar with the Eagles festival March 7-9, with a full lineup of special events and educational opportunities. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to nationaleaglecenter.org and look for the link to Soar.
The website includes plenty of information on the center and its programs, as well as some excellent video. Just remember: Watching an eagle on a computer screen is nothing like seeing one from the banks of the Mississippi.