National Park Vacations: New Initiative Makes Parks Free for Fourth-Graders

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The Obama administration, on September 1, launched Every Kid in a Park, a new program designed to provide free admission for fourth graders and their families to America’s federally managed lands.

“Every Kid in a Park is a chance for fourth graders from every background to be outside and get to know the lands and waters that belong to them, whether it’s a national forest, a wildlife refuge, a marine sanctuary, or a historic site in the center of the city,” says Christy Goldfuss, managing director, White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“We want to make sure,” says Sally Jewel, US Secretary of the Interior, “that every American has the opportunity to develop a lifelong connection to our nation’s land, water and wildlife.”

To print a free pass, the fourth grader must log on to Every Kid in a Park’s website and complete an educational activity. The pass provides free admission to the student as well as to three accompanying adults or free access for everyone in a car at drive in parks for the 2015-2016 school year.

The website perks kids’ interest by asking if they want to “see protected animals,” “visit the woods,” “go to a park,” or explore “more places to play.” Then students input their zip code, how far they want to venture (15-100 miles away), what activities interest them (including hiking, fishing, camping and biking), and what type of site they want to explore (a national or state forest or park, a wildlife reserve, a wilderness area, and more). Click on “map my results,” and voila, a map of appropriate sites pop up.

The site also provides useful first-time visit tips. For example, those headed to a forest learn about following trail maps, packing water and snacks, as well as taking camera along to create a photo journal.  The site also links to games to play before or after such as biodiversity bingo.

President Obama says “Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our mountains, our lands, our waters—these places are your birthright as Americans.”

Designed to continue each year focusing on fourth graders, the hope is that after 12 years, every school-age child will have visited parks and public lands for free and have learned the value of protecting and enjoying these environments.