The national parks are open

Photo provided by National Park Service

The national parks are open

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
4/7/2016


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Our National Park Service has kicked off a new campaign to invest in future park users. The “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, a national program, provides free park passes for fourth grade students and their families to all of the national parks in the country.

Elizabeth Rogers, public affairs specialist at Long Island National Seashore, said that the program is just one this year that celebrates the park service’s centennial, which is on Aug. 25. “We’re celebrating all year long, though,” she noted.

The National Park Service was signed into law by then-president Woodrow Wilson in 1916, several years after President Teddy Roosevelt had set aside many acres of pristine land for preservation. At the time of the signing, there were already 30 national parks in existence. “However, the management wasn’t officially in one agency [before then],” Rogers added. Today, there are 410 national parks.

The Every Kid in a Park program was proposed by President Barack Obama to encourage every fourth grader in the country to explore their federal land and waters. Rogers said fourth grade is targeted since that age group is more receptive to this type of learning and exploring. “[Kids] are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways,” she added.

There are 22 national parks in New York State alone, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in NYC, and on Long Island the recently refurbished Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, the former home of President Teddy Roosevelt. A lot closer to home is the Fire Island Lighthouse and the William Floyd Estate in Shirley. Rogers said that a federal grant funding transportation is bringing fourth graders from two local school districts – William Floyd School District and Bay Avenue Elementary School in Patchogue – to tour the William Floyd Estate and the Fire Island Lighthouse this year.

Kathy Krause, chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service said, “Even though they live right across the bay, they’ve never been there,” and also noted that park rangers have been visiting schools to help prepare the kids for the visit. “We want kids to have the best possible experience,” she said.

Krause said she hopes this program would continue on. “We don’t want this [opportunity] to end. Our goal is to stay connected with the education community.

“[The kids] may never get to visit a [national park], but they can still learn about the parks through ranger visits at their school,” she added. However, Rogers said she expects similar grants to become available in the future.

“There will always be a focus on this age group,” she said. “We hope to reach the next generation…of park supporters.”

For more information and to download a pass, go to the website: www.everykidinapark.gov.