Every Kid In A Park

Photo courtesy everykidinapark.gov
By Ethan Hipple 

We all know that many kids spend more time with their smartphones and tablets than they do outside. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this may have something to do with why you are reading this blog. As a parent, you’re looking for ways to pull the plug and connect your children to the smell of the forest, the splash of the salt spray, the rush of the mountain winds, the freedom of running wild outside.

Well, that goal just got a lot easier to accomplish for parents of 4th graders across the country. As part of President Obama’s effort to make America’s public lands accessible to all, he has directed federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service and National Forest Service to issue free family entrance passes to any child in 4th grade. The pass gets the 4th grader (and their entire family), into any site that charges an admission fee, starting on September 1st, 2015 and ending on August 30, 2016.


The idea is to get every kid in a park, whether it is their neighborhood park, or a national icon like Yellowstone, that may be 1,000 miles away or more. We can’t expect people to protect what they don’t love. And they can’t love it if they don’t know it. So the first step is to get every kid in a park. Once they are there, nature will take over. They’ll take a hike to the top of a mountain, swim under a waterfall, or see a bison, grizzly bear, or a dolphin. These experiences develop a sense of wonder, appreciation, and love. Plus, it’s fun.


Hopping in the car this weekend to spot egrets at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, on Plum Island, in Massachusetts? For families with a 4th grader, the $20 fee is waived.


Planning a spring break road trip to the side canyons of the Grand Canyon, to sleep in a forest of juniper and pinon pines, listening to the coyotes howl as the Colorado River rushes by below? $30 entrance fee is waived.


Heading up next weekend to Acadia National Park for camping and some biking on their delightful network of car-free carriage roads? $20 fee is waived.


The Every Kid In A Park 4th Grade pass covers entrance fees at every National Park, Monument and Historical Park in the country, as well as all entrance fees at National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges. It also includes lesser-known but still spectacular Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Land Management Sites. (Parking, camping, and other fees still apply--this is for entrance fees only).


The Park Service has put together a simple and easy website www.everykidinapark.gov that allows 4th graders to log on and complete a short activity before receiveing their free pass, which is printable from your home computer. Parents and educators can also use the site to plan trips and get information on field trips to public lands throughout the country. They have an excellent map feature that lets you plan a roadtrip across the country, or just figure out which Parks or Forests are within reach of your home.


The National Park Service turns 100 years old in 2016, and the Every Kid In A Park program, is part of their centennial campaign called “Find Your Park”, co-chaired by First Ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. Check out their website to learn about the centennial, and different events in your area. There’s even a fun video from Bill Nye, the Science Guy.


Go get in a park!


Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families, kids.outdoors.org.  

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