|Celebrating "Every Kid in a Park" granting free National Park Passes to all 4th graders nationwide!|
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Photo: National Park Trust
The super-tall, super-lean, super-endurance runner Dylan Bowman is bent over a bunch of outdoor gear - warm jacket, rain layer, etc - rolling up each item as tightly as possible and stuffing them into a backpack, demonstrating to a group of wide-eyed 4th graders how to pack a backpack for a day hike.
He leans in and asks this small group of eight or so kids from Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, California: how many of you have ever gone hiking? Two of the eight kids raise their hands. Just two.
|North Face global athlete Dylan Bowman teaching about packing a backpack.|
Photo: National Park Trust
I don’t know why I find that number surprising. I suppose it’s because I live and breathe the outdoors and I’m surrounded by like minded enthusiasts both in my community and online. But once I reach out of my comfort-bubble-zone, I remember the stark reality that most kids in the United States don’t have my kind of access to the outdoors and don’t get to go to parks beyond their local, neighborhood park.
That’s why last week’s event at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, which brought together 60 students from Oakland to enjoy a day of outdoor games and exploring and was sponsored by a powerful partnership of outdoor-kid-evangelist players, is so vital and touching.
|The official 4th Grade Pass to all U.S. National Parks.|
Each and every one of these 60 - 4th graders was proudly given a National Parks Pass to hang around their necks, as if receiving an Olympic Medal, for their entire family to have free access to all of America’s public lands and waters for the entire year, an initiative funded by “Every Kid in a Park” which launched out of the White House last year. And to support and celebrate that initiative, The North Face Explore Fund, The Outdoor Alliance for Kids, The National Park Service and The National Park Trust have all banded together to create this event and similar events around the nation.
|Teaching a group of eager 4th graders how to set up a tent.|
Photo: National Park Trust
Why is this so important?
“Too few children have opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural world and programs like this are critical to ensuring all kids can visit their public lands,” explains OAK Co-Founder and Chair, Jackie Ostfeld. And she’s right. By providing free access to our nation’s great and treasured parks, this initiative helps alleviate a piece of one the barriers, a financial one, and allows more families to play in the outdoors which in turn brings about a healthier, more active population overall.
Senior Director of Outdoor Exploration at The North Face, Ann Krcik aptly adds, “through the Explore Fund grants, we are building a community of outdoor explorers and inspiring people to love and protect the places where we play.” This is key. This is vital. By introducing this giant population of 4th graders and their families to the Parks every year, we are creating stewards for wild places and green spaces for generations to come.
|North Face athletes mixing it up in the backpack relay race with some giddy 4th graders.|
Photo: National Park Trust
So now we circle back to our super-athlete Dylan Bowman and this diverse group of wide-eyed kids hanging onto his every word. The “backpack relay race” starts and each kid is gleefully rolling up gear and smashing it into the backpack as fast as possible to beat the other team of classmates next to them, racing back and forth, gear and bodies flying everywhere.
It’s this kind of giddy joy that helps tells the story of why getting these kids access to the outdoors is so important and why so many groups are making this their mission.
Let’s all grab our backpacks and jump on board. To the summit!
For more information about these groups making a difference for kids:
About The North Face®: The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor, Inc., was founded in 1966 with the goal of preparing outdoor athletes for the rigors of their next adventure. Today we are the world’s leading outdoor brand, creating athlete-tested, expedition-proven products that help people explore and test the limits of human potential. We protect our outdoor playgrounds and minimize our impact on the planet through programs that encourage sustainability. The North Face products are available at premium and specialty retail sporting goods stores globally and we are headquartered in California on a LEED Platinum-certified campus. For more information, please visit www.thenorthface.com.
About the National Park Service: More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 413 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Visit us at www.nps.gov, on Facebook www.facebook.com/nationalparkservice, Twitter www.twitter.com/natlparkservice, and YouTube www.youtube.com/nationalparkservice.
About National Park Trust: National Park Trust, a 501(c)(3) non profit, is dedicated to preserving parks today and creating park stewards for tomorrow. Since 1983, NPT has completed more than 100 land projects benefiting 40 national parks and other public lands in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Since 2009, our Buddy Bison School Program and national Kids to Parks Day have engaged 2,000,000 students across the country with our nation’s parks, public lands and waters (ParkTrust.org).
About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than eighty businesses and organizations, led by a steering committee which includes representatives from the Alliance for Childhood, American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Latino Outdoors, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, NatureBridge, The North Face, Public Lands Service Coalition (a program of The Corps Network), REI, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world. For more information: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org