Weekly “What is it?”: Every Kid Outdoors

A map showing the route (in green) of our cross-country camping trip/geography class. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The author with her classmates atop a Canadian glacier. Photo credit: Gregory Jeane

The summer after my junior year of college, I took part in a nearly 40-day road trip with the geography department at my university. We headed west from Birmingham to New Mexico, then north to Banff National Park, traveling through fourteen states and two Canadian provinces before making our way back to Alabama. Between destinations, our professor lectured on geographical formations as we looked out the windows of the 15-passenger van he drove. For a kid who’d previously spent little time out west, it was the adventure of a lifetime. We camped in frigid valleys and atop mountains, hiked for miles, cooked most meals over a fire, and visited dozens of national parks and monuments. That experience opened my mind to the incredible variety and sheer beauty of the American wilderness, cementing my lifelong resolve to help protect and conserve it.

A bison grazing at Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Since that collegiate adventure, I’ve been lucky to visit National Parks from the Dry Tortugas in Key West to Denali in Alaska, and many in between. I believe all kids (and adults!) need the opportunity to experience wild places. National Parks give us the chance to understand the magnificent scale of mountain ranges or desert, discover new ecosystems, and see wild animals that most children have only seen in storybooks.

My daughter, showing off her 4th grade parks pass. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

About 20 years after I first visited Yellowstone—America’s first designated national park—we took our children there on a summer trip. We’d recently learned of the National Park System’s “Every Kid Outdoors” effort, which grants 4th graders a free pass to every federal park, monument, and recreational area. That summer our daughter had just completed 4th grade and earned her free pass. She proudly presented it to the ranger working the Yellowstone admissions gate, who congratulated her for bringing her family to the park and waved us all in with a smile. The 4th grade pass admits three adults and any child under 16 for free.

Hiking a trail in Yellowstone with my family. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The pass saved us $70 for entry to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but the experiences our family had together in the parks were priceless. For kids raised in flat-elevation Florida, the opportunity to hike mountains, watch geysers blow, and see bears, bison, and elk was completely new and exciting. While there, our kids also participated in Junior Ranger programs, which entail ranger-guided hikes and programs, activity books, and special Junior Ranger patches and pins for children.

Locals can enter Gulf Islands National Seashore all year long with their 4th grader’s free parks pass! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

It is an easy process for your favorite 4th grader to earn a free pass to the parks (valid September 1-August 31 of their 4th grade year). First, visit https://everykidoutdoors.gov/index.htm, where your child will participate in a simple online activity about exploring the outdoors. After this, a printable pass will pop up. Passholders must show the printed passes at entry locations. At many locations, including our local gem Gulf Islands National Seashore, children can trade their paper passes in for a waterproof plastic pass, which will be more durable for reuse at other parks.

So, don’t wait! If you have a 4th grader in your life, it’s time to go get that pass and start exploring the hundreds of incredible natural and historic wonders in this diverse country of ours.


Posted: January 29, 2024

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Forests, Natural Resources, Recreation, Wildlife
Tags: Ecotourism, Environmental Education, Habitat Conservation, Hiking, Weekly What Is It, Wildlife

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