Earlier this year, to celebrate the upcoming 100th birthday of the National Park Service, President Obama announced the creation of a program called Every Kid in a Park (which we like to think of as No Child Left Indoors). The program was to allow every American fourth grade student and their family free access to all federal lands and waters for a year, and today is the first day students can apply for their free pass. The pass is available to public and privately-schooled 4th graders as well as home-schooled children.
The passes are good from September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2016 and are basically free versions of the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, which allows fee-free access to all federal lands and waters (National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, Historical Sites, Forests, Preserves, BLM land, etc). The program also comes with $20 million specifically to assist with transportation to these lands.
This program came about after a series of studies found that more than 80% of American families now live in urban areas with limited access to safe outdoor spaces, while at the same time kids are spending significantly more time in front of screens than they are outside. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week.
Across the country, people involved in the outdoors have been seeing the same problems – dwindling numbers of young people in parks but an increase in vandalism and improper use. Here in Southern California, our local park agencies have been doing an excellent job in pioneering outreach to both underserved communities and to young people, and it’s great to see that same outreach now happening across the country. We believe that getting more young people into the parks is perhaps the best way to teach the next generation not only how to interact with and experience the parks, but to inspire the next cohort of wardens and stewards to ensure the places we love continue to be protected and appreciated.
Starting today, students can simply head to the Every Kid in a Park web site to download and print a unique park pass and begin using it immediately. There are lots of resources for parents and educators to help locate nearby parks and plan trips, too!
Photo courtesy National Park Service. Photo by Will Elder, Golden Gate National Recreation Area