President Obama is making an announcement that will affect the lives of 10-year-olds all across the U.S. At least for the upcoming school year. He is granting free admission to all national parks for 4th graders and their families for a full year, starting in the 2015-16 school year.
It's all part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative — an effort to get more schoolchildren outdoors and active. But more than that, this new promotion could turn kids on to parks at a time in their lives when they might actually care about nature, wildlife and even geology and historic landmarks. It's no secret that the National Park Service has had a hard time enticing young people into their sites.
And the recent price increase announcement certainly didn't help. One-week admission to most national parks can cost anywhere from $10 to $25. A family annual pass to get into all national parks would set the family budget back by $80. That's no small chunk of change for families to consider when choosing their next day trip or family vacation.
But the real crux of the problem is that if kids don't fall in love with parks at a young age, they are less inclined to care about whether or not those parks exist as they get older. And it gets harder and harder every year for national parks to compete with everything from televisions to computers to smartphones.
Sure, introducing 10-year-olds to these national treasures is a great way to get them excited about being outdoors. But more importantly, it's an amazing way to introduce them to an experience that may alter their perceptions of nature for the rest of their lives. And to give them the spark they need to become the next generation of national park stewards.
So where is the money coming from to cover these free passes? The fees will come out of a $20 million National Park Service budget for youth engagement programs.
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