As a kayak excursion leader for Outside Hilton Head, Jean Fruh knows the best way to truly appreciate Hilton Head Island is from the water.
But it’s a vantage point many young residents have never witnessed.
“It’s something I do every day for tourists, but children who live here might have never seen that," Fruh said.
The Friends of the River began taking local kids out in kayaks a few years ago and turned to the local outfitter to help.
Last year, more than 250 kids got to see their home from the water.
But Fruh and Outside Hilton Head CEO Mike Overton wanted to do more.
They were somewhat inspired by Outdoor Nation, an organization that exists to get children out into nature. Its founding members include The North Face outdoor gear company, the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund. Outdoor Nation realized it is losing its future members to video games. If kids don’t appreciate the outdoors now, they won’t hike and ski and kayak later in life, Fruh said. They also won’t support land conservation and environmental protection.
Fruh and Overton saw the same threat here, so decided to start a local, more personal entity.
Formed in November, the nonprofit Outside Foundation’s goal is to double the number of middle school students who get to be outside in a kayak instead of sitting inside watching nature programming on television. They want to show these kids the benefits of recycling and teach them about the natural riches that surround them.
“A lot of kids aren’t getting outside,” Fruh said. “They’re spending their days hooked up to electronic devices. Their science exposure is virtual. There are a lot of nature channels, but it’s not the same thing as being outside. Some do spend part of their day outside, but in a very structured way, like Little League."
Fruh and the six-member board of directors plan to work with other entities, such as Port Royal Sound Foundation, the Boys and Girls Club and the Island Recreation Center, to create a curriculum to go with the outdoor experience.
“I’m amazed by how many kids have never been in a kayak and never been in a salt marsh,” said Fruh, a retired West Virginia sports medicine professor turned master naturalist. “It’s all about the water and interpreting the color of the water and what’s out there and why. I love showing them the connection between oyster beds and spartina grass. It’s about getting their hands in the pluff mud and changing their viewpoint about where they live.”
She’s also eager to get kids on paddleboards.
“The vantage point is totally different. You can see more of the marsh. It’s challenging to balance. Kids like that challenge. It’s great exercise and they’re having so much fun, they don’t even realize it,” she said.
Fruh hopes for long-term benefits from the program. “Kayaking and paddleboarding are lifetime activities. Our hope is if later in their lives there are threats to our waterways, it will mean something to them.”
The foundation also is overseeing a recycling program at Shelter Cove Marina. It collected 9 tons of plastic last year.
“My goal is to get the word out about the foundation and apply for some grants,” Fruh said.
It starts with getting kids in kayaks.
“It’s an opportunity to see their island in a whole new way.”