WASHINGTON – A new nationwide, public-opinion survey commissioned by the National Park Foundation (NPF) in partnership with Union Pacific Railroad finds 85% of U.S. adults believe national parks can be classrooms for children, and 70% feel it is very important that parks inspire children to be avid learners.
On average, each year across more than 400 parks in all 50 states and U.S. territories, the National Park Service hosts more than 60,000 in-park and distance learning education programs, serving over 1.8 million students. Since 2011, NPF has connected more than one million students to educational park experiences, with the support of partners such as Union Pacific.
The new survey reveals that 77% of U.S. adults favor expanding national park field trips, classroom activities, and educational experiences.
“The findings indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans see parks as places of learning and they support expanding programs that connect kids to educational experiences in national parks,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “Thanks to Union Pacific’s generous support, the National Park Foundation is helping to answer the call, making it possible for more students across the country to participate in ranger-led programs that bring subjects such as climate science and U.S. history to life through parks in their own backyards.”
Additional findings from the survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners, include:
- 72% say it is very important that national parks connect children to the outdoors and 69% believe that children who spend time outdoors do better in school
- 69% say it is very important that national parks connect children to history and that national parks provide children with hands-on learning in the outdoors
- 69% think it is very important to expand programs that connect kids to parks who have never visited a national park before
- 70% support connecting one million children to national parks over the next four years
- 78% support programs that create educational experiences for children through online programming that enables them to virtually visit a park site whenever they want
The survey also showed that parks are closer than people think. More than two-thirds of people do not realize that most Americans live within 100 miles of a national park.
“National parks are places of health and learning, and they’re closer than many realize,” said Union Pacific Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations, Chief Administrative Assistant and Foundation President Scott Moore. “For those who may have seldom or never visited, Union Pacific is proud that our partnership helps address some of the challenges, such as providing transportation and curating curriculum.”
Earlier this year, NPF announced its goal to connect another one million students to parks over the next four years through its Open OutDoors for Kids program, which is part of NPF’s Youth Education and Engagement initiative.
As part of this program, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park and New Orleans Jazz Museum are partnering on culturally responsive field trips for fourth through eighth grade classes, providing educators and students with digital and in-person experiences exploring New Orleans music and culture.
“Thanks to support from the Open OutDoors for Kids program, the New Orleans Jazz Museum and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park are able to make meaningful connections between the unique history of our community and the space in which that history has taken place," said New Orleans Jazz Museum Education Specialist Ashley Shabankareh. “The past year of virtual and distance learning has reminded us the importance of in-person engagement. By working with this tremendous program, we are able to provide a deeper connection to our community for students and educators who may not have otherwise been able to take part in our programming.”
At Indiana Dunes National Park, about an hour’s drive from Chicago, the park collaborated with Dunes Learning Center to develop a new hybrid program called Frog on the Log-In, which takes students on interactive, virtual adventures to explore the five unique ecosystems of Indiana Dunes, discover how local organisms adapt to the dunes, and find similar ecosystems across the United States.
“The support from the National Park Foundation made such a positive impact because it gave us the opportunity and resources needed to partner with teachers and Dunes Learning Center alumni to create a hybrid learning program that has been on the drawing board for a number of years. Students who had never been to Indiana Dunes National Park were excited to see so many different areas of the park and told us they are now looking forward to visiting with their families,” said Dunes Learning Center Education Director Erin Crofton. “As we get back to in-person learning on campus, Frog on the Log-In will continue to provide options for self-guided or Naturalist-led adventures in the classroom. It will also be included in the Dunes Learning Center’s flagship overnight program, Frog in the Bog, to build on the students’ in-park learning about the natural and cultural history of the Indiana dunes region, the interconnections of human and natural environments, as well as the rich biological diversity found in the dunes.”
As the largest supporter of Open OutDoors for Kids, Union Pacific helps provide national park experiences for thousands of students across the 23 states where it operates.
At the core of Open OutDoors for Kids, NPF and Union Pacific are making educational experiences in parks more accessible for all people, with a specific focus on children who live in communities that are striving to overcome a lack of resources to offer engaging learning opportunities for students. In addition, Open OutDoors for Kids helps students, teachers, and families feel safe and supported as they explore national parks. For roughly two-thirds of the students, it is their first time in a national park.
To learn more about our partnership or support our national parks, visit the NPF website.
Research notes: Lake Research Partners designed and administered this survey of 1,000 adults conducted online from May 11-17, 2021, using an opt-in panel of adults. The data were weighed slightly by gender, census region, age, race and ethnicity, and educational attainment, to reflect census population estimates, as well as by partisan identification. The margin of error for the total sample is +/-3.1% at the 95% confidence interval.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
The National Park Foundation works to protect wildlife and park lands, preserve history and culture, educate and engage youth, and connect people everywhere to the wonder of parks. We do it in collaboration with the National Park Service, the park partner community, and with the generous support of donors, without whom our work would not be possible. Learn more at nationalparks.org.
ABOUT UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD
Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) delivers the goods families and businesses use every day with safe, reliable and efficient service. Operating in 23 western states, the company connects its customers and communities to the global economy. Trains are the most environmentally responsible way to move freight, helping Union Pacific protect future generations. More information about Union Pacific is available at www.up.com.