visit Ellis Island in Little Falls, N.J.
your family includes a fourth-grader, you've got your
ticket to the national parks for this year. The annual
pass, which would otherwise cost a family $80 (unless the
family includes a senior citizen or member of the
military) is the latest in the National Park Service's
efforts to introduce a new generation to all that is
amazing about the 401-park system.
park visitation hit a record 292.8 million people last
year, the number of visitors under the age of 15 has
fallen by half the last decade. The overall average age of
park visitors has increased, particularly at the big parks
out West: According to a new report, the average age of
visitors to Denali in Alaska is 57; at Yellowstone, which
includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, it is 54.
officials have begun to worry that interest in and support
for the parks will dwindle, if the parks don’t become
relevant to younger generations. That’s especially
crucial with 80 percent of Americans living in urban
settings, and the only forests they may ever see are on
the wallpaper samples for their iPads.
officials have been brainstorming and coming up with new
programs for kids.
free passes for fourth-graders are available at the new
website everykidinapark.gov. To get the pass,
fourth-graders need to answer a few questions about
outdoor adventures. Then, yes, there’s instant
gratification: you can print out a pass at home, or trade
it in for a more credit-card-like plastic pass.
site lets kids start planning a trip into nature,
depending on what appeals to them. They can see rare
animals, explore the woods, visit a national park or find
other places to play.
not just fourth-graders who are being courted.
nationalparks.org, the National Parks Foundation, which
promotes and provides private support for the parks, you
can download a free guide with 35 park adventures for kids
of all ages. The parks have also joined forces with two
icons of childhood to help get the word out.
first is with Sesame Street. A new online series,
"Sesame Street Explores National Parks" (sesamestreet.org/parks),
features Muppets Elmo and Murray visiting Gateway National
Recreation Area in New York and Grand Canyon National Park
in Arizona in six short videos as well as accompanying
hands-on activities; the videos teach young people about
habitats, seasons, plants and animals. They can also learn
how to conduct an animal survey, look for nests, identify
migration patterns and even listen to the sounds of
second effort is with Disney, in which a public service
announcement that features Disney Channel star Caroline
Sunshine encourages kids and families to explore the
outdoors. The announcement was a good match for the theme
park giant, whose Disney Friends for Change and Disney
Worldwide Conservation Fund programs were created to
connect kids and families to nature.
course, the national parks have always had programs for
young people — the Junior Rangers is a longstanding
effort — in place at most parks. Though they vary
slightly by location, most encourage kids to become
outdoor stewards. Youngsters may get a free booklet filled
with activities or worksheets on spotting local wildlife
or be able to take classes or visit exhibitions on
everything from history to safety issues. At the Grand
Tetons, for example, kids learn how to keep food locked up
to prevent bears from coming into campsites. At
Yellowstone, a display at Old Faithful teaches kids about
geysers. You can also download booklets and a variety of
educational materials at nps.gov/kids/jrRangers.cfm.
nod to changing times, though, there’s a new spin on the
Junior Rangers theme: Web Rangers. Kids can log in, play
games, earn rewards and maybe even get curious enough to
want to experience some of that digital world in real
participation is key to the Find Your Park program, the
centerpiece of the National Park Service’s 2016
centennial. Launched last year, findyourpark.com is
designed to engage the public and to reintroduce the
national parks and the work of the National Park Service
to a new generation of Americans. The idea is "to
discover a personal connection to a place or a story that
provides inspiration or enjoyment," according to NPS
Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
instance, first lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the
program with former first lady Laura Bush, shared videos
describing her connections to two locations: President’s
Park, home to the White House, and Pullman National
Monument, one of the newest national parks, in her family’s
hometown of Chicago,
Your Park is also designed to address the mistaken
impression held by many that national parks are only in
the West — places such as Glacier and Bryce. Not only
are they in every state in the United States, but they are
about more than just America’s natural beauty. They also
note sites of significant historical and national
importance and include familiar landmarks such as the
Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Little Rock Central
High School and the Lincoln Memorial.
efforts to change with the times have gone pretty far —
in one case, controversially so. Jarvis recently waived
agency policies against partnering with alcoholic beverage
companies so the National Park Foundation could sign a
multimillion-dollar agreement with Anheuser-Busch — a
deal that gives the brewer valuable branding placements
during the centennial campaign. The park service hopes
Anheuser-Busch will be a key partner in its search for a
younger audience, co-branding with the brewer at concerts
in the parks and "integration" with its
your exploration of the national parks at nps.gov, the
official park service site, and nationalparks.org, the
National Parks Foundation site.
often is the case with big federal agencies, there’s an
alphabet soup of organizations and websites devoted to the
national parks. Here are a few of the major ones. Like the
national parks themselves, all are worth a visit.
The official National Park Service site.
National Park Foundation. Chartered by Congress in 1967,
the foundation is a national charitable nonprofit whose
sole mission is to directly support the National Park
Service. The site offers a variety of free guides,
including the "National Park Owners Guide," as
well as ways to give back to the parks.
Fourth-graders can get their park passes here.
National Parks Conservation Association. Advocates for the
national parks and provides information on issues
affecting the system and protected lands.
Answer a series of questions to get suggestions on parks
that are most suited to your interests. You can also
search parks near a particular ZIP code. Contribute
photos, videos and stories about your park experiences,
and read those of other park visitors. The site includes
not just national park sites but centennial events and
suggestions for visiting other public lands, as well.
The main listing for centennial events. You can sort by
state or park.