Help fourth-graders get free park passes
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Those of us with a strong connection to the natural world know that attachment was born and strengthened through personal experiences we had outdoors as children, generally when family members took us outside to spend time, relax or have fun.
A new nationwide program began in 2015 with hopes of increasing access to federal public lands for fourth-grade students, along with the goal of establishing connections to the outdoors. Every Kid in a Park begins its third year on Sept. 1, 2017. Every fourth-grader has easy access to a free pass for admission to public land from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2018.
Since the inception of this program, I have led almost 1,000 fourth-graders in the local school district to pick up passes at our local wildlife refuge. This year, I will lead more than 400 students down the same trail to pick up 2017-2018 passes.
With the majority of the U.S. population living two hours or less from public lands, it is possible for almost everyone to visit on day trips, even those who face financial or transportation limitations.
Each fourth-grader in the 2017-2018 school year is eligible for a pass that covers admission fees for the student and up to three other individuals at more than 2,000 individual federal lands, parks and waters. Seven federal agencies are engaged in this effort to provide opportunities for our citizens, young and old alike, to experience the majesty of our great country.
The easiest way to get a pass is to fill out a simple digital form on the website and then print a paper pass. Bring the pass to any federal public lands and exchange it for a unique plastic card that the student can sign and carry when visiting national parks, national monuments, forests, waters and wildlife refuges. There are options for parents, students and educators to navigate the site and print passes for the program. Go to the website at http://www.everykidinapark.gov.
Students, teachers or parents may use the website to help plan trips to numerous public destinations. Trips are certainly not limited to backpacking in the backcountry. Many people want to stay in cabins or recreational vehicles, and overnight options are available at many nearby public reserves.
The website also provides lesson plans for teachers or homeschool parents. There are links to learn about protected animals in our national forests. Other links help locate nearby parks, as well as options for overnight stays.
My hope is that all fourth-graders and their families will take advantage of this great program and establish lifelong connections to the outdoors.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.