Give me an O. A. K.

guest blog by
Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club’s Nearby Nature Director and OAK Chair, and
Brenna Muller, Sierra Club’s Trails and OAK Program Manager

IMG_9364Give me an O. Give me an A. Give me a K. What’s that spell? “OAK” cheered 100s of fourth graders at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, on Tuesday during an annual meeting of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. This week was OAK’s fourth annual membership meeting and members from across the country gathered to celebrate the recent launch of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, participate in a strategy meeting, and take to Capitol Hill to advocate for programs and policies that connect children and youth with the outdoors.

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National Park Trust’s Buddy Bison greets the kids as they arrive at Rock Creek Park. “Sharing the great news about the Every Kid in a Park initiative was an exciting and historic way to kick off the 7th year of our Buddy Bison School Program,” stated National Park Trust Executive Director, Grace Lee. “The 4th grade students from two of our schools — Beacon Heights Elementary (Maryland) and Elsie Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School (Washington, D.C.) — are excited to use their free park passes to discover and explore new national park units this school year.”

Connecting 100 fourth graders from local Title 1 schools with an opportunity to Find Your Park was the highlight of the week for us, an important reminder of why we do what we do. Hundreds of smiling faces gathered acorns (OAK seeds) and took to the trail after receiving their Every Kid in a Park passes that will give them free entry to our federal lands, waters and shores for an entire year. Big thanks to Rock Creek Park and OAK member, National Park Trust for organizing the kids and bringing out the National Park Service mascot, Buddy Bison.

During the event we had the honor of hearing from Christy Goldfuss, Managing Director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, Kristin Bail, Assistant Director for National Conservation Lands and Partnerships at the Bureau of Land Management, Tara Morrison, Superintendent of Rock Creek Park, Aaron Mair, President of the Sierra Club and Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. Dozens of additional OAK members helped to make the day a success including Izaak Walton League of America and the American Camp Association. Special thanks to REI and The North Face for providing the kids with bags, snacks and water bottles.

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“Guess who all of these places belong to,” asked Christy Goldfuss of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “You. All of the public lands and waters in this country belong to all Americans.”
“During the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, we want everyone to get to know their national parks, and we’re offering a special invitation to fourth graders and their families to discover everything that national parks offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We hope these free passes for fourth graders will introduce 4th graders, their classes, and their families to our national treasures, places where they can run and play, explore and learn.”
“During the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, we want everyone to get to know their national parks, and we’re offering a special invitation to fourth graders and their families to discover everything that national parks offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We hope these free passes for fourth graders will introduce 4th graders, their classes, and their families to our national treasures, places where they can run and play, explore and learn.”
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Sierra Club President Aaron Mair gives 4th graders their passes.
“Getting outdoors with your family is fun, but it’s more than that. Because if you take care of nature, it will take care of you,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society.
“Getting outdoors with your family is fun, but it’s more than that. Because if you take care of nature, it will take care of you,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society.
Behind the scenes. OAK members getting it done.
Behind the scenes. The OAK members that make it all happen.

During the week, members of OAK’s steering committee also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with several bureaus of the Department of the Interior, making a commitment to collaborate to get more kids outdoors on public lands and waters.

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OAK steering committee members gather with the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation on the rooftop of the YMCA of the USA to put pen to paper and make this partnership official.

We also rolled up our sleeves to strategize about how we’ll start moving our efforts onto the ground. OAK members learned more about some of our city strategies including Every Kid in a Park, Let’s Move! Outside and the Cities Connecting Children with Nature projects.

OAK members meeting with Colorado Congressman Jared Polis during annual advocacy day.
OAK members meeting with Colorado Congressman Jared Polis during annual advocacy day.
Kyle MacDonald of The Outdoors Empowered Network (OAK Member) on Capitol Hill for advocacy day.
Kyle MacDonald of The Outdoors Empowered Network (OAK Member) on Capitol Hill for advocacy day.

Finally, we let members of Congress know that we need them to invest in our kids. During our annual Hill day, OAK members educated members of Congress about the Transportation Reauthorization, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act.