Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina).
Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).
By many accounts, American children spend less time outdoors than ever before. Correcting this trend would not only provide physical, mental and emotional benefits, but help to build the next generation of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts.
“Every Kid in a Park,” which was first announced by President Obama in early 2015, aims to address that problem—or at least begin the process of addressing it. The program provides fourth grade students and their families free admission to all national parks and other federal lands. Now, they will be able to enjoy its benefits through at least the 2017-2018 school year.
Despite Every Kid in a Park's popularity, its near future was recently in doubt. The National Park Service recommended that Congress delay action on a bill that would have made the program permanent. However, the agency later announced a yearlong extension. We applaud that decision and remain committed to ensuring the program lasts well beyond the coming school year.
A young program, but already a success
America’s public lands and waters belong to all of us, and everyone deserves a chance to enjoy them. Since the launch of Every Kid in a Park, hundreds of thousands of young people have had the chance to experience America’s parks and historic sites, many for the first time.
This highly successful program has helped overcome key barriers to access by waiving entrance fees and often leveraging private funds to help with transportation. Over the first two years, the program leveraged $5 million in private funding to support transportation costs for children in historically underserved schools.
By many accounts, American children spend less time outdoors than ever before. Correcting this is an important goal both for kids' wellbeing and the conservation movement. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
Getting kids outside is especially important now that America’s youth spend less time outdoors. According to one study, kids and teens ages 8-18 spend up to 6.5 hours looking at screens per day (compared to just minutes a day in unstructured play). The rise of sedentary lifestyles and screen time among children is a major factor in the health crisis facing our youth, with nearly one in three children or teens now overweight or obese. Time spent outdoors has profound positive impacts on physical and mental health, and boosts academic performance.
The bipartisan Every Kid Outdoors Act, versions of which were recently introduced by Sens Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Reps Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), would codify and make permanent the Every Kid in a Park program. Congress should act now on that bill and direct the National Park Service and other federal land management agencies to continuing providing park passes to fourth graders and their families.