U.S. House Rep. Scott Tipton has introduced legislation seeking to make permanent a federal program that provides fourth-graders free access to federally managed lands.
Every Kid in a Park, first established in 2015 by the Department of the Interior, provides free entry to more than 2,000 federal lands for an entire year, according to the program’s description. In its first year, the program allowed more than 2 million fourth-grade students to access lands in their community.
“As a lifelong resident of Western Colorado, national parks and monuments have been the backdrop of countless memories, and I want to make sure that all kids have the same opportunities to experience these treasures,” Tipton said.
The program was designed to give students and families who might not otherwise access public lands the opportunity to connect with federal parks and preserves.
“Many of these students come from urban Title 1 schools and are making their first connection with the outdoors and national parks,” said Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist with the National Park Service.
The pass allows students and families to access federal lands and waters, including National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands. The pass, accessed online, provides free entry for three adults and other children younger than 16.
“Economic barriers should not prevent children and their families from visiting these sites that belong to every one of us,” Tipton said.
The act, introduced by Tipton and Rep. Diana Degette, D-Colo., is known as the Every Kid Outdoors Act. It would make the existing program permanent, safeguarding it from the possibility of future budget cuts.
“Children are our future. If we’re able to get them more interested in our public lands now,” Degette said, “research shows that they are much more likely to become good stewards of these national treasures later on down the road.”
The National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids provided funds for roughly 4,000 Colorado elementary students to take field trips to local parks in the last academic school year, said Jason Rano, vice president of government relations for NPF.
“Programs like this are vital to helping spark a lifelong love for public lands and building a strong community of national park champions,” Rano said.
The vote on Every Kid in a Park program is expected to occur next week, when Congress returns to session Feb. 25, according to Tipton’s office.
Liz Weber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.