Our Parks Have a New Superhero

by Jackie Ostfeld | This post was originally published on February 19, 2020 on the Sierra Club blog here. Featured photo courtesy of Marvel/Disney.

Photo courtesy of Disney / Marvel.

I just got home from paradise, where I had the distinct honor of meeting Marvel’s newest superhero. Robbie Bond has a superpower—teleportation. With great power comes great responsibility, and Robbie is making sure kids across the US get to explore our public lands so that they will be inspired to protect our environment.

On Valentine’s Day, episode 15 of Marvel’s Hero Project, “Roving Robbie” premiered at the Hawaii Theater in downtown Honolulu. Robbie was joined by family, friends, and adoring fans to catch a first glimpse of his journey toward superhero stardom.  

A preview of Robbie’s Marvel Hero Project episode, now available on Disney +. Clip courtesy of Marvel/Disney.

I first met Robbie, the youth founder of Kids Speak for Parks, two years ago when he was just ten years old. He was excited to tell me that he had recently visited a national park with his new Every Kid in a Park pass. Established in 2015, and now called Every Kid Outdoors, the pass program was launched to welcome a new generation of children onto their public lands by providing free entry to national parks for fourth graders and their families. The program was an instant hit, reaching over 2 million kids and leveraging $5 million in private funding, but it came under immediate threat from the Trump administration. Over the last few years, the Sierra Club and all of our partners in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids have had to advocate to protect the program from elimination. Robbie spoke out to sway our Interior Secretary, and he even journeyed to Washington, DC, to help educate members of Congress about the program. With Robbie’s help, the Every Kid Outdoors Act was signed into law last year, saving the program and ensuring that nearly 4 million children each year would have the opportunity to visit a national park. 

Robbie was fortunate to have a childhood full of connections to nature. “If you’re born and live in Hawaii, you’re pretty much obligated to be an environmentalist,” he shares in the film. Robbie’s love for parks was also clearly inspired by his grandfather, Robin, who literally wrote the management plan to save Hanauma Bay. Robbie wants to make sure that all kids have opportunities to visit parks and fall in love with nature, because he knows that his peers are spending less time outdoors than any generation in history. 

In fact, the Every Kid Outdoors program was designed to help reverse a growing national crisis: the indoor and sedentary lives of our children contribute to our nationwide childhood obesity epidemic. Fewer than half of all children in the US can safely walk to a park or playground. For kids and families without reliable transportation, it can be a challenge to visit places outside of town. And the cost of visiting some of our parks can discourage families from visiting these national treasures. In addition to the physical and economic barriers our kids face, our families are overscheduled, our kids are plugged in, and as a result, today’s children are growing up indoors. The just-released 2019 Outdoor Participation Report found that children and youth are recreating in the outdoors at rates even lower than we had previously believed; the number of outings for children has fallen 15% since 2012. 

I live in Washington, DC, and have two kids under the age of five. We’re lucky to have rivers to paddle in, gardens to grow our food in, and local parks where we can walk, play, or have a family picnic. But even for me, a longtime advocate for getting kids outdoors, it takes significant effort to get my family out the door. There are days when I wish I had Roving Robbie’s teleportation powers. While I am not a superhero myself, I am starting to understand their appeal. My eldest, Dylan, routinely dresses up as Iron Man, the Hulk, or Black Panther. I told him that I met a real live superhero and read him the latest edition of Marvel’s Hero Project Roving Robbie over breakfast on Sunday. Inspired by Robbie and recalling our family readings of The Lorax, Dylan told me that he was a superhero, too, and that “we [meaning our family] are the good guys, we speak for the trees.” 

Robbie’s journey began with a natureful childhood, and it kicked into high-gear around the time the Trump administration announced plans to “review”  27 of our magnificent national monuments. When Robbie first heard about the administration’s unprecedented plans to shrink our monuments, he told his parents, “I just can’t let that happen,” and the Bond family set off on the adventure of a lifetime to visit as many national parks and monuments as possible.

Photo courtesy of Marvel/Disney.

This superhero couldn’t have come onto the scene at a better time. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced plans to shrink the size of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument by 50% and Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, the largest elimination of protected land in history. Moreover, mining and drilling companies would leap at the chance to exploit these lands, depriving current and future generations of enjoying their majesty. It provides me with so much hope to see young leaders like Robbie standing up to defend our public lands and inspiring his peers to visit and advocate for parks, as well.

Robbie’s message is clear—you need to see our parks if you’re going to stand up for them. That’s why we’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure that all kids have opportunities to visit their parks and public lands. In the coming weeks, the Sierra Club is joining our partners in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids to launch the Every Kid Outdoors in State Parks campaign to urge governors across the country to accept the national pass in their state park systems. We’ve already seen progress in several states from Maryland to Wyoming, and we’re looking to grow nationwide support to get every kid outdoors. No matter what zip code they live in, every child has the right to experience the benefits of time in nature. Learn more and pledge your support to get every kid outdoors today.

Jackie Ostfeld is the Founder and Chair of OAK and the Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign.

Published by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Chair

My name is Jackie Ostfeld. I am the co-founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and the Director of Sierra Club's Outdoors for All campaign. I am an advocate for connecting kids with nature. Views are my own.

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