President Barack Obama outlined ambitious plans to use the Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016 to keep parks relevant to an increasingly urban and diverse nation. “Every Kid in a Park” will strive to ensure that every 4th grader in the nation has a meaningful experience in a park or other public lands setting beginning in the fall of 2015.
The program is detailed in the President’s budget proposal and other budget related materials.
Federal and state park and recreation agencies will host the visits, designed to be both fun and educational. The National Park Foundation will help fund the transportation costs of the park visits. NPF has previously supported student trips to parks through grants under its Ticket to Ride program.
Fourth graders were selected for a variety of reasons, and in active consultation with the educational community. In most states, 4th grade curriculums align well with park visits – in history, science and other aspects. Moreover, recreation community research has repeatedly shown that exposure of kids under 11 to the outdoors is critically important to later-life participation in outdoors activities. There are an estimated four million students in the selected grade nationwide.
In a briefing of recreation, conservation and education leaders, NPS Director Jon Jarvis explained that Every Kid in a Park will be a signature program for the National Park Service Centennial and is far more than a one-day field trip. Fourth graders across the nation will be encouraged to return, bringing their families with them. Parks plan ongoing relations with youth, using webcams and remote sensing as well as classroom visits, to help convert a spark of interest into a lifelong connection with parks and the outdoors.
“The nation’s recreation community applauds the President’s action,” said Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition and an active member of the National Park Service Centennial Advisory Committee. “We have stressed for two decades that there has been a decline in outdoor activity by America’s kids. We noted declines in kids’ bike sales and overall park visits, a surge in obesity among youth and dramatic increases in hours spent by kids staring at screens. We helped build partnerships to lure kids outdoors – offering ideas to parents and schools and youth organizations and park agencies. We have united groups around action through Great Outdoors Month™.”
The program is expected to put a special emphasis on the nation’s Title I schools, schools with concentrations of low-income students. These same students often have limited exposure to America’s shared legacy of parks, forests, refuges and other public lands and waters.
According to Crandall, there will be strong support for Every Kid in a Park from the recreation community. “There are communities that already have similar programs in place, including use of overnight environmental education centers. National park concessioners assist with food and transportation. And the national program was inspired in part by the outreach by the snowsports industry to 5th graders in several states.”
Every Kid in a Park is expected to be the primary focus of the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR) for 2015-16 and will be a focus of Partners Outdoors 2015, to be held in Washington, D.C., on June 2-4.