We work with partners across Minnesota to inspire children and their families to enjoy the myriad benefits of time spent outdoors, and act as a launchpad for finding opportunities to connect with nature.


Minnesota families across ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic lines view connection to the outdoors as an essential component to the health of our community.

Core Values

Collaboration We know that the best outcomes are achieved when people work together, and we actively seek opportunities to amplify this local and national work through sharing ideas and information.

Community We see the natural world as not just a place for families to connect with their children, but also a place to engage with each other and strengthen our community ties.

Evidence We believe that practice and policy should be informed by evidence. We work to be an evidence-based organization and to share research to encourage other organizations to ground their practice and decision making in the science.

Equity We believe that access to quality natural resources and outdoor experiences, and their benefits, is a right that all children and their families should enjoy. We work in collaboration with our partner organization to enhance all of our capacities to work toward equitable access for all.

Steering Committee Members

Heidi Faris (Chair)

heidi_skiingHeidi is a Naturalist Teacher at Tamarack Nature Center for the My Nature Preschool. Prior to teaching she spent the past 8 years in the zoo world where she specialized in connecting families to nature through play experiences, as well as serving as co-chair for the North Carolina Children and Nature Coalition (NCCAN!). Beyond the classroom she is an advisor for the Conservation Education Committee with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Karen Harrison

Karen coordinates the Minnesota School Forest Program at the Department of Natural Resources. She loves working with teachers around the state to help them teach outside more often. Karen has a background in Environmental Education and Biology and was a former classroom teacher in Colorado. She has a daughter and husband who love being active outside as much as she does. They spend a lot of time playing, canoeing, camping, and skiing.

Niall Murton

Niall Murton is the Camp & Outreach Director for the Burnsville YMCA and YMCA Camp Streefland. He leads a national initiative between the National Park Service and YMCA for the Twin Cities that connects thousands of youth with nearby nature experiences. Prior to joining the Y, Niall worked in Parks & Recreation and the YMCA in Denver, CO.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in Health & Physical Education & Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction.  He has been involved in outdoor and community programming for over 20 years. He actively coaches with the Prior Lake Soccer Club and enjoys fishing, canoe trips and time with his family outdoors.

Alora Jones

Alora is a marketing professional and writer living in North Minneapolis. She currently works for the MN-ND-SD chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and also serves in advisory roles for Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine and the Minneapolis Park Police Advisory Council. She holds a bachelors degree in marketing and has been certified by the Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer program. Outside of these spaces, you might catch her hiking with her black lab or off on a camping trip with friends and family.

Cathy Jordan

Cathy-Jordan-photoCathy is Professor of Pediatrics and the Associate Director for Leadership and Education at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She is also the consulting Director of Research for the Children & Nature Network. Cathy has been involved in the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee since 2007, previously serving as its Chair and hosting the organization briefly at the University of Minnesota. Cathy’s areas of expertise include the developmental, educational and health impacts of connecting children to nature as well as best practices in community-engaged approaches to research. She provides an evidence-informed lens for the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection.

Jody Yungers

Jody Yungers photoJody is currently the Director of Recreation and Parks for the City of Brooklyn Park, MN (6 largest City in the state of MN). She has worked in both municipal and County government for over 38 years. Jody has served on the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection Executive Committee as the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association representative since its infancy. Jody has been an advocate and leader in the industry for implementation of nature-based play areas in parks and nature-based preschool programming that utilizes the natural world as an enriched classroom.

Bekah Hanes