The Promise and Power of Programs in Our Parks

Julie SegerNPF Blog
NPS Ranger teaching young students in the park
– Dawn Kish

Our national parks include stunning landscapes, unique wildlife habitats, and powerful historical and rich cultural resources. But they are also so much more. These beloved places also drive great progress in building community, expanding education, and preserving our collective history.

A 2016 study unveiled by the National Park Foundation valued our national parks at $92 billion while exploring previously unmeasured ways in which we appreciate these public assets. In addition to the parks’ mission of “forever” and their worth even to those who don’t visit, the study found that nearly one third or $30 billion of our National Park System’s total economic value is attributable to National Park Service (NPS) programs.

The importance of these programs is apparent in the $6.6 billion valuation of NPS’ work in historic restoration, preservation, and renovation efforts to protect significant sites around the country. Among numerous historic preservation programs that make a difference at the local level, NPS manages the National Register of Historic Places, which coordinates efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources – iconic places like Washington D.C.’s Union Station or Boston’s Fenway Park.

As living classrooms with endless opportunities for learning, our national parks are also a precious educational resource for Americans of all ages. The study’s finding of a $14 billion value for NPS’ educational programs is not a stretch when you consider the vast amount of learning that happens at our national parks every day.

NPS Ranger teacher students in a classroom
Dawn Kish

From celebrations of citizen science like annual BioBlitz events at parks around the country, to a park ranger’s informative interpretation of an ecosystem or site, these programs connect people, families, and even entire schools to new knowledge and discovery in our national parks.

NPS’ robust educational programming has thrived as part of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) initiative, which encourages America’s youth to explore and appreciate our public lands by granting fourth graders and their families free access to 2,000 federally-managed lands, waters, and historic sites.

Engaging many new young audiences, EKIP field trips to national parks immerse these learners in the science, nature, history, and culture embodied in these special places. The emphasis on fourth graders allows EKIP to impact our youth as they are forming a more concrete understanding of the world, remaining receptive to new ideas, and as they are most likely to feel positive attitudes about nature.

NPS Ranger with young students pointing to a web
Dawn Kish

With curriculum-driven instruction, park ranger classroom visits, and interactive field trips happening around the country, the EKIP program has forged a new and promising path for our national parks’ educational reach. We are proud to be a supporter of EKIP, granting $1.1 million to enable 140,000 fourth graders to visit our public lands last school year.

With nearly one third of our parks’ total economic value stemming from NPS programs, Americans recognize their impact on people and communities alike. Whether protecting a natural landmark, preserving a historic site, or inspiring a young person’s love of nature, NPS programs elevate the natural beauty and recreational value of our national parks. Perhaps most importantly, NPS programs reflect the shift from words to actions as we advance our shared mission to protect America’s treasured places, connect people to the outdoors, and inspire future generations of national park stewards.

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