Friday, February 20, 2015

In The News: Let's Get Every Kid in a Park

Yesterday, while designating three new National Monuments, President Obama also unveiled the new Every Kid in a Park initiative, which will grant all 4th graders in the United States a free one-year pass so they and their families can visit National Parks and public lands free of charge. The program kicks off this fall, so all you parents of current 3rd grade students... start planning now how you're going to take advantage of that free pass!

Yellowstone Falls, photographed by my eight year old self.

The Every Kid in a Park initiative aims to make America's National Parks and public lands more accessible by waiving entrance fees for 4th grade children and their families.  In addition to the free entrance pass, the initiative will also offer grants to cover transportation costs for school field trips and students for whom those costs are prohibitive.

Like me, you may be wondering... why were 4th graders chosen to receive the passes? As it turns out, 9 and 10 year old children are at just the right age to form a life-long affinity for, and interest in, the great outdoors. According to this ABC News article, the age of 11 is generally seen as the "last chance" to build a child's relationship with nature that will last into adulthood.

Children are spending more and more time in front of screens (7 hours per day), and any program that brings down barriers and encourages them to adventure into the outdoors is a great thing, especially for those children who don't have access to parks and nature near their homes.

Yellowstone - behind my finger you might see a few elk...
I was so excited when I heard about this program, because I have some pretty great memories of my own involving visits to National Parks as a kid. When I was around the age of eight, my Dad starting taking my sister and me on annual roadtrips to visit nearly every National Park in the Western US. I loved seeing all the sights in the parks and have albums stuffed with photos (half of them with my chubby child fingers covering the lens) to prove it. Although it took me awhile to warm up to the hiking part - I started whining when the hikes got difficult or long (read: longer than a mile), and I was probably more eager to hit the gift shops than the trail - this is now an activity that I enjoy in adulthood. And because of those early experiences, I now care about the protection and preservation of our National Parks and wilderness (see my recent post on development in the Grand Canyon).

Even though my memory of these annual road trips is a little fuzzy on the details now, I still remember that I was there. I visited this park, and this park, and this park... and now that those memories are a little too fuzzy for my liking, I want to go back.  I want to take more photos (without the finger on the lens), and hike all of the trails I wasn't able (or willing) to hike the first time around.  I want to go back and appreciate a grown-up view of the places I visited and marveled at as a kid.

Visiting our National Parks is an experience that should be available and accessible to all, and the newly unveiled Every Kid in a Park initiative will open doors and help to make these visits possible for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity. As a result, these kids can grow up feeling that same pull of adventure and ethic of stewardship that has drawn so many of us to discover, enjoy, and protect our National Parks and the ecosystems of which they are a part.

My toothless eight year old self somewhere in Yellowstone...

Related Posts:

Musings: Development, Gondolas, and Tourism in National Parks

Musings: Memories to be Thankful For

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