Exploring ‘America’s best-idea’ just got better with free U.S. national park passes for kids.
Imposing a structure onto America’s most stunning wilderness feels a bit like trying to get a toddler to adhere to a strict snack schedule, but if anything, it’s almost as if the US national parks willed themselves into being. Their campaign of manifesting their destiny began in the mid-1880s when European heading westward across the continent stumbled upon the area that today is Yosemite National Park. Explorers like John Muir were so entranced by the valley that they sent messages back east imploring Congress and President Lincoln to place the land under government protection, which they did during the Civil War. Yellowstone became the first official national park in 1872 (under President Grant) and in 1915 the National Park Service was created. Today the NPS oversees some 392 national parks, monuments, battlefields, seashores, recreation areas, and other protected sites that can be found as far north as the arctic circle (Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Kobuk Valley National Park) to south of the equator (National Park of American Samoa). And now thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program all 4th graders can enter each and every one for free.
Every Kid in a Park is run through the National Park Foundation’s Open Outdoors for Kids as part of their wide format of programs that range from providing underserved schools transportation to parks for field trips to training teachers how to teach about nature to sponsoring kids to attend day camp.
Parents and can access the passes by visiting the Every Kid in a Park site starting September 1, 2015. But why (only) 4th graders you may ask? As Susan Newton, senior vice president of grants and programs at the National Park Foundation explains, “We are starting with an invitation to the targeted segment of America’s 4th graders because we know that children who interact with nature and natural areas before age 11 are more likely to have positive attitudes toward nature and the environment as adults. Fourth grade is also when many schools are teaching local, state, and national history.”
Here’s just a few of the lands and landmarks your 4th grader can visit for free:
A view from the floor of Yosemite, the park that spurred the formation of the National Park system.
Today national parks come in all shapes and sizes. These caves, part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in Wisconsin are only accessible in winter.
Only Delaware, our first state, lacks a national park. Here, organic materials in the plants and soil form a rainbow effect in the Congaree National Park, South Carolina.
Lava from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater, part of the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, making it the longest-lived rift-zone eruption of the last two centuries.
The homes built into the cliffs that are now the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico were inhabited by the Mogollon poeple from late 1200s to 1300s. Perched 180ft above the canyon floor, they contain about 40 rooms.
The Russell Cave National Monument in Alabama has been inhabited by humans since 7000 BC.
Almost half of the land that makes up the National Park of American Samoa is coral reef, like here off the coast of Ofu island.
At White Sands National Monument in New Mexico you can visit the world’s largest expanse of gypsum dunes.
The Florida panther is found exclusively in the Everglades National Park. Luckily, its numbers have been rising since the 1970s.
You could stack the Statue of Liberty five high in the depths of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
The nation’s largest cacti, the saguaro, are found only in Saguaro National Park, Arizona.