In his international bestseller Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes about the alienation of children from the natural world and outlines the benefits of a strong connection to nature. His research shows that the benefits of being outside range from boosting mental alertness and creativity to reducing obesity and depression, from promoting health and wellness to simply having fun.
Connecting our nation’s youth to the great outdoors is even more important at a time when 80 percent of American families live in cities or suburbs, and most children spend more time on computers and smartphones than exploring nature.
As part of a national effort to connect more kids to nature and to teach students the importance of protecting our public lands, the Every Kid in a Park program is a nationwide effort to create a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.
The program allows all fourth graders (or home school equivalent) to receive a FREE one year pass for themselves and their family to visit ALL federal parks, lands and waters. With over 2,000 sites across the country, every person is within two hours of a site to use the pass. There are over 150 sites within an hour and a half drive from East Cobb. Here are a few destinations nearby families can go to:
- See Protected Animals at a National Wildlife Refuge. Georgia is home to a group of seven Wildlife Refuges along the coast that create a protected habitat for many species such as bobcats and alligators, and the inland marsh attracts thousands of migratory birds every year. Closer to home you can visit the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge and try to catch a glimpse of an endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker. Use their website to search for a Refuge near you. www.fws.gov/refuges.
- Visit the Woods. We are fortunate to have both National and State Forests practically in our backyard. Use www.discovertheforest.org to find dozens of sites to explore. The Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest is only an hour and a half drive and a perfect day trip with kids. Mountain hikes and breathtaking waterfalls make the drive more than worth it. Be sure to download the free Agents of Discovery app before you go. It is a game that uses augmented reality to actively engage kids in learning about our public lands. Or try the Nature Next Door challenge to go on a nature scavenger hunt, learn about the forests through an artistic lens, or simply enjoy a family friendly outdoor workout.
- Go to a Park. Want something a little tamer? At www.findyourpark.com you can search by state to find new places to explore that aren’t too far off the beaten path. A family favorite is the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area just outside of downtown Roswell. You can enjoy an easy hike on manicured paths along the Chattahoochee River, or just bring your lunch and have a picnic along the river bank. You can also rent kayaks or rafts and float the river.
- Watch History Come Alive. The website www.recreation.gov lets you search for even more options to use the Every Kid in a Park Pass. Tours of local historic sites are included so if you have been meaning to venture in town and visit the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site or the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, now is your chance to do so.
Get your free pass at www.everykidinapark.gov. The Every Kid in a Park pass is good at thousands of National Parks, Forests, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and historic landmarks across the country. With Winter Break and Spring Break on the horizon, be sure to check out the many sites you can visit. The Every Kid in a Park pass is valid until August 31, 2019 so you still have months left to explore and enjoy the benefits.
This article was written by Illana Burkhart, Co-Vice President for ECCC PTA and originally appeared in the December issue of EAST COBBER, on page 29. Click here to view the digital edition.