guest blog by Grace Lee, Executive Director of National Park Trust
Last year during the centennial of the National Park Service, our national parks alone enjoyed more than 330 million park visitors. Great news – right? Unfortunately, most of their visitors are white and aging. Young people are our next generation of park stewards and outdoor enthusiasts, thus it’s critical for the future of our parks and public lands to engage and cultivate this important segment of society.
To address this problem, National Park Trust created Kids to Parks Day in 2011 to engage youth from diverse communities with the great outdoors. This country-wide park “holiday” is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May, the weekend before Memorial Day.
In our first year, we were thrilled to engage 18,000 participants. Little do we know that in just 7 short years, our participation would soar to more than 1 million on May 20th, 2017!
What makes Kids to Parks Day hum? It’s all about the power of partnerships. Thanks to our many national collaborators and partners including the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), we’ve leveraged our combined “reach”, to engage 3.5 million youth over the years and across the country – promoting 1) education, 2) healthy outdoor recreation, and 3) environmental stewardship.
One notable example, this year OAK member PBS Kids’ Nature Cat heard about National Park Trust during an OAK quarterly membership call. Nature Cat contacted National Park Trust and together we teamed-up (along with National Park Trust’s mascot Buddy Bison) for three signature Kids to Parks Day events at Ft. McHenry (Baltimore, MD), Constitution Gardens (Washington, D.C.) and Channel Islands (Ventura, CA). These events were three of the more than 1,700 family-friendly park programs that were available across the country on May 20th and posted on our site – many of the events were either hosted, organized, and/or promoted by OAK members!
However, Kids to Parks Day (KTP) is not just about one day of outdoor recreation – it promotes year-round use of parks by kids and their families. KTP Day gives life to National Park Trust mascot, Buddy Bison’s message: “Explore outdoors, the parks are yours!”
We look forward to working with OAK next year to get even more kids outdoors on Kids to Parks Day 2018 –May 19th!