Opening the OutDoors for Kids

May 12, 2016Farah AnwarField Notes

Our Open OutDoors for Kids initiative connects kids to national parks through tons of fun and educational activities – from kayaking, to participating in hands-on science experiments, to rock-climbing, and so much more.

One thing’s for sure: there is something for everyone in our parks!

Kids are spending more time indoors and have fewer opportunities to connect with nature and the outdoors. Open OutDoors for Kids is focused on changing this reality.

Image of Virgin Islands Ticket to Ride Kayakers

By providing opportunities for children to engage with our national parks in a meaningful way, the initiative allows them to have transformative experiences that create a desire to continue exploring the outdoors.

Open OutDoors for Kids bridges the gap that prevents many kids from visiting parks by providing transportation funding and related materials for field trips to national parks. Kids are able to see firsthand how parks can be a part of their lives for healthy lifestyles, educational opportunities, and recreation.

At Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, kids experienced a unique mangrove habitat with a diverse population of corals, all thanks to Open Outdoors for Kids.

Although on an island, the water park is located on the remote east end of the island which is a long drive from the school and is only accessible by boat or kayak. Kids rode a motorboat named Sadie Sea out to the park and were able to snorkel and kayak to explore and learn about marine life and ecosystems.

Image of Virgin Islands Ticket to ride Swimmers

Along the kayak route discussions were had about climate change and our public lands. While snorkeling, students explored the mangrove habitat by peering under the roots of the mangrove trees and saw a ton of sea creatures. Most of the kids had never snorkeled or kayaked before and it was truly a unique experience.

At Obed Wild & Scenic River, urban kids from the Boys & Girls club in Knoxville, TN (about an hour from the park) had an amazing experience. Through a guided hike, kids learned about the different species of animals, insects, and plants that live and grow in the park and checked off the species they saw on a scavenger hunt.

Then they hiked to Lilly Bluff Overlook which provides a beautiful view of the river and the park with green landscapes as far as the eye can see – something these city kids were not used to!

Image of young African American boy rock climbing at Obed National Park

The next part of their park adventure was the most exciting – rock climbing! Experienced park staff assisted kids in rock-climbing, which none of the children had ever done before, but the park is well known for. Some of the kids were nervous at first, but on their second or third climb they didn’t want to stop or leave the park! 

One of our largest supporters of the Open OutDoors for Kids initiative is Disney, which has an established history of supporting conservation efforts.

Disney Conservation Fund celebrated their 20th anniversary of this past April with over $40 million invested in protecting wild life and wild places around the world. Together with the Disney Conservation Fund, we have committed to a focused collaboration that helps to increase the time that kids and families spend immersed in nature experiences. Disney is supporting our efforts to connect half a million kids to national park experiences by 2017! 

Through support from Disney and other partners, we are able to get even more kids outdoors. Help us support this great initiative and other programs that get kids outdoors to learn and play in our national parks.


Photo credits (in order of appearance): Obed Wild and Scenic River and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument images courtesy of National Park Service; Rock climbing at Obed Wild and Scenic River by Dawn Kish. 

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