Young people benefit from time in nature, but it is up to adults to help get them outside. A new free pass for fourth graders can help
Growing up in Compton, California, I didn’t usually get to spend time in parks and green spaces—but I was lucky. Our local police association created a program for young athletes like me with good grades. Through this program, I got to visit the national parks in our area, and it opened my eyes to the broader world and the importance of spending time in nature. This experience has stayed with me to this day and inspires me to help more young people get outdoors.
This past September, President Obama committed to giving every fourth grader a similar chance to explore America’s great outdoors and unique history through the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Fourth graders can download a park pass that gives them and their families a full-year’s free admission to all of America’s federal lands and waters—including our more than 400 national parks.
This could not come at a more important moment for our national parks and for America’s youth. In 2016, we will celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park System, and programs like Every Kid in a Park and NPCA’s Find Your Voice are inspiring youth to become the next generation of park advocates.
We need to help make this connection for the kids in our lives. As a former NFL player and a fitness expert, it saddens me to see young people spending more time in front of screens than they do outside. We need kids to care about nature—because kids need nature. Less time outside has been linked to a wide range of negative health effects in children and teenagers, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and obesity. Time outdoors also helps to develop fundamental skills like running, jumping, balancing, and throwing. So many young people could build these skills and enjoy many other mental and physical benefits just by having more time outdoors.
Today, it is my personal passion to connect young people with parks. I’ve brought kids from Washington, D.C., to Shenandoah National Park for their first camping trip, joined first-time park visitors for a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and sponsored opportunities for youth to perform music, poetry, and dance on the National Mall, among other activities.
With four out of every five American kids living in urban areas, it’s even more important to help them connect with the parks in their own backyard—parks that they might not even know are there. If you don’t spend time outdoors, you may not realize how much fun exploring a national park really is. Bugs, dirt, and rocks can be pretty interesting, no matter how old you are.
Initiatives like Every Kid in a Park make it easier for young people to visit the national parks, but it is up to us to get them there. In 2016, I hope that you join me by bringing the young people in your life to a national park and by challenging your family, friends, and colleagues to do the same. A free pass to the parks opens the door to amazing experiences that will result in healthier people, healthier parks, and a new generation of park advocates.
About the author
Darryl Haley is a world-renowned fitness trainer, former New England Patriot, Ironman Triathlete, and the Director of Music at the Monument for the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative. He and his wife, Judy, are members of the NPCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Leadership Council. Tune in to WHUR 96.3 to listen to Darryl on “Fitness Fridays” during the Steve Harvey Morning Show.