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Ky. band partners with state parks foundation to raise funds for environmental education

Bendigo Fletcher performs in Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
Bendigo Fletcher performs in Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

A nature-loving indie rock band is partnering with a Kentucky State Parks Foundation program to help inspire the Bluegrass State’s next generation of nature lovers.

Louisville indie rockers Bendigo Fletcher recently released a cover of the 2011 Cults tune “Go Outside” recorded live on video in Natural Bridge State Resort Park on top of one of the state’s signature natural attractions. The group also created a limited edition t-shirt featuring a squirrel playing a banjo and encouraging people to – as the song says – “go outside.”

All proceeds from sales of the shirt will benefit the foundation’s Kentucky Parks Club. Its Inside Out Education initiative provides grant support to K-12 schools to fund trips to state parks and historic sites. The shirt is available on the program’s website, which features state park-themed posters and shirts that also benefit the initiative.

Bendigo Fletcher lead singer Ryan Anderson said he feels that now – as Kentucky and the rest of the United States continue to grapple with the impacts and potential risks of climate change – it’s more important than ever to instill a sense of respect and wonder in today’s youth.

“As good as it is and as effective as it is to be talking about the scary things about climate change, it's just as important to … focus in on the joy and the love that nature can bring us and why we need to preserve the places that are special,” Anderson said. “An important step to empowering young stewards of the Earth is helping them fall in love with nature.”

This isn’t Bendigo Fletcher’s first foray into environmental philanthropy. Multiple previous releases – including the band’s Consensual Wisdom, their eponymous release and follow-ups Memory Fever and Terminally Wild – have benefited the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust.

Anderson, a Florence native, said the natural world plays a big role in his personal creative process, and that connection is what inspired him to work with the Kentucky Parks Club.

“It's really just like a continuous opportunity to be inspired and like a challenge to be present. The more you give to those intentions, I believe, the more rewarded you can be as an observer,” he said. “This relationship that I've fostered personally with the Earth is both a spiritual and a creativity-enabling relationship.”

The idea to perform and record in Natural Bridge State Resort Park was born out of the band’s collaboration with Josh Patterson – who produced and documented the performance as a part of his In Harmony project. Patterson’s site describes the project as “a blend between a music video and nature doc.” Nolan Dunn and Chris Wheeler, both of Lexington, captured the audio recording of the performance, which can also be streamed on Apple Music and Spotify.

An extended version of the band’s performance atop the Natural Bridge can be viewed on Patterson’s Vimeo channel.

Kentucky students explore John James Audubon State Park on a field trip that received funding through the Inside Out Education initiative.
Kentucky Parks Club
Kentucky students explore John James Audubon State Park on a field trip that received funding through the Inside Out Education initiative.

Molly Caldwell, a consultant for the foundation, said the initiative was born out of a desire to curb the decline in school field trips to the state’s parks and historic sites identified over a decade ago.

“We were seeing fewer and fewer school trips every year, and that was due to declining budgets. They just could not afford to take the buses over to the parks,” Caldwell said. “Kids that were going to school in [counties where state parks are located] weren't going to visit the park because they did not have the money … so we thought a great way to connect those dots would be to remove that barrier.”

Since 2014, the initiative has awarded 100 grants to send over 7,300 students from more than 40 school districts across the state to 26 different parks and historic sites – in total investing nearly $59,000 in environmental and historical education experiences.

According to a testimonial on the Kentucky Parks Club site, students in Muhlenberg County High School teacher Stacy Cornette’s class collaborated with a University of Kentucky program to learn about water quality in the state.

“Students were able to explore the various components of ecosystems, biodiversity, benthic macroinvertebrates, and do water testing,” the educator wrote. “One student in particular had never been to a state park before … and can’t wait to go back. [The program] has been amazing for my classroom.”

Caldwell said the program can help young Kentuckians create lasting relationships – like Anderson’s – with nature.

“These students not only come that day with their school, they end up coming back. They bring their parents, they bring their siblings, they bring their grandparents,” she said. “Connecting them to that space – it's proven to be not just a one time thing.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.