Commentary: Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus, and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) Act, bipartisan legislation to provide America’s fourth graders and their families free entrance to all federally managed land, waters, and historic sites, including national parks – more than 2,000 sites in all. The Every Kid Outdoors Act is aimed at encouraging kids to get outdoors and experience America’s public spaces, while engaging in healthy activity and educational programs.
The EKO Pass would provide free entrance into federal public lands across New Mexico, including but not limited to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Valles Caldera National Preserve, Bandelier National Monument, El Malpais National Monument, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Río Grande del Norte National Monument, White Sands National Monument, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and all National Forests.
“Our national parks and public lands are outdoor classrooms with endless opportunities to learn and make memories,” said Senator Heinrich. "Connecting kids to the outdoors can inspire a lifelong connection to conservation, while reaping all of the health benefits that go along with an active lifestyle. The Every Kid Outdoors Act will give fourth graders and their families free access to explore the rich natural and cultural history on display in our parks, forests, and monuments.”
“We sing about and believe in America the beautiful, and one of the best ways to experience that beauty is to explore our national parks,” said Senator Alexander. “I grew up next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means I really grew up in the park, and made many of my childhood memories there. It is my hope that 4th graders -- and their families -- across the country will take some time to explore our country’s national parks and create their own memories.”
Additionally, the bill encourages increased public/private partnerships between public land agencies, schools, and private and nonprofit organizations. Since 2015, the Department of the Interior has offered fourth graders and their families free entrance to all federally managed public lands. In doing so, the program leveraged over $2 million in private donations and volunteer hours, and created hundreds of partnerships with schools, non-profits, and private sector businesses to support outdoor education programming and recreation opportunities for underserved youth. The program also contributed to the record-setting visitation to America’s national parks in 2016 as part of the #FindYourPark/Encuentra Tu Parque campaign to commemorate the Centennial of the National Park Service. The Every Kid Outdoors Act codifies this effort into law, which will encourage further collaboration with outside organizations and help leverage additional support, while providing for new and more widespread educational opportunities.
The legislation is supported by the Outdoors Alliance For Kids (OAK), National Recreation and Park Association, Sierra Club, YMCA of the USA, The Wilderness Society, National Park Trust, Girl Scouts of the USA, National Wildlife Federation, the Trust for Public Land, and the Outdoor Industry Association.
“The Outdoors Alliance for Kids applauds the introduction of new bipartisan legislation to expand opportunities for children to get outdoors,” said Jackie Ostfeld, co-founder and chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. “Today’s youth spend more time indoors than any generation in history, with dire consequences for their health and well-being. The Every Kid Outdoors Act is a low-cost, common sense solution to encourage children to get active and learn about the public lands, waters and shores that make America so special. This legislation will help turn the tide on a generation left inside and OAK looks forward to working across the aisle to see this bill signed into law.”
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo., Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) introduced the bill in the House.