In an effort to encourage children of all ages and abilities to spend time in outside spaces this summer, the National Park Trust announces the 5th annual Kids to Parks Day, scheduled for May 16.Created in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama?s ?Let?s Move? campaign of 2010, Kids to Parks Day is a low-key, cost-free commitment to exploring a park anywhere in the United States during the weekend before Memorial Day. Grace Lee, Executive Director of the Park Trust, says it?s that simplicity that drives people to support Kids to Parks Day. ?We want Kids to Parks Day to be a national day of play outdoors in all parks; national, state, or local, and on waterways and public lands, too. State parks are often more accessible to people, and local parks are treasures for families to enjoy.?
With a dual mission to protect parks and create stewards of outdoor spaces for tomorrow?s users, the National Park Trust event has garnered a healthy awareness about park space in the United States, particularly as neighborhood alignment shifts away from homes and shops grouped around a central park area. The Trust believes that parks are vital points of emphasis for all, and encouraging families to visit and spend time in a park, familiar or new, will help foster visitation and support for those spaces, later.
Lee cites a CNN report that documents attendance in national parks by youth under 15 has fallen in the past decade, despite record numbers recorded by the National Park Service. Why the decline? A number of factors may be at work; busy family schedules during summer months when all parks are most often visited seem to be the biggest culprit, but parents simply may be unsure where to start exploring, even close to home. Kids to Parks Day reflects an effort to investigate places near and far, becoming a ?detective of sorts,? Lee said.Participation in Kids to Parks Day is easy. While there are no formal directions for what, where, or how to celebrate the day (or weekend) are required, the National Park Trust would like to track how many individuals and families take part. The Kids to Parks website has a pledge page upon which families commit to spending all or part of Saturday, May 16 in a park of their choice. Additionally, parents, educators, youth leaders, and kids themselves can access resources for individual or group activities like games or journaling.
Prizes are an incentive for some kids, so the National Park Trust is automatically entering everyone who pledges to participate in Kids to Parks Day into drawings for prizes. How about a Nikon CoolPix camera, or a stuffed Buddy Bison, mascot of NPT? The point, says Lee, is to encourage, inspire, and promote the benefits of parks to families across the country. ?Our goal is to see 500,000 participants in 2015.?
Lofty? Not at all if one considers the endorsements of Kids to Parks Day by such organizations as the American Hiking Society, Children & Nature Network, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Geographic Kids, and a host of outdoor and family-themed blogs taking up the challenge of recruitment. It?s easy, it?s free, and most important, it?s fun.
Outdoor Families Magazine is proud to be part of the Kids to Parks 2015 team of supporters. Visit the Buddy Bison Corner on the OFM home page and take a pledge to get outdoors on Saturday, May 16 for the sake of parks and kids.
FAMILY ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS TO PARKS DAY
- Create a photo scavenger hunt and explore a familiar park, or trail. Look for things like animal tracks, new leaves, flowers, or heart-shaped rocks. Award prizes to the family team who finds the most items on the list.
- Visit the Kids to Parks website and print the Park Adventure Booklet, a multi-page activity packet created just for kids.
- Invite neighbors and friends to an “open house” event at a local park. Set up a table with goodies, sports equipment, information about other parks, and take time to connect with your community.
- Participate in a guided walk or hike at a national park. Visit the National Park Service for a complete listing of each individual park or historical landmark.
- Pack up early in the morning and head to a state park day-use area for a picnic breakfast. Bring a camp stove, pancake fixings, bacon, and fresh fruit and say “good morning” to the world.
- Make May 16 a day to clean up a favorite park area or open space. Wear gloves, carry trash bags and a rake or grabbers to pick up garbage, and do your park to keep a clean park.
- Go camping at a new place. Visit your state parks website, the National Park Service, or even city sites for a listing of campgrounds.
Erin Kirkland is managing editor of Outdoor Families Magazine, and the author of Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska and publishes the website AKontheGO.com, the state’s only family travel resource.