Fears are mounting over whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will cut a program around since 2015 that allows fourth graders and their families to enter national parks for free.
Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) and Sierra Club Outdoors are waiting to hear from the Department of the Interior whether the threat to the government's Every Kid in a Park program will become a reality.
"All signs indicate that Secretary Zinke is planning to cancel the program,” said Jackie Ostfeld, director of Sierra Club Outdoors and chair of OAK. “We don't know if he will announce it or simply let the program term end, but the staff person who coordinated the program has already left, and none of the prep work needed to get the program ready for the next school year has taken place."
Recently, half a dozen military kids and their families visited Zinke at his office and delivered postcards from kids all over the nation who have benefited from the program, which has aimed to inspire kids to discover the nation's wild places.
By visiting the Every Kid in the Park program, fourth graders and up to three accompany adults can get a free pass to access federally-managed lands and waters—national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries—for an entire year.
“When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there's not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door,” Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The park maintenance backlog is over $11 billion. During the first year of the Every Kid in a Park program, the administrative costs were around $100,000. Cutting off kid’s access to national parks isn’t even a drop in the bucket of the massive parks maintenance backlog.
In an email, Ostfeld called the claim “absurd” and said “it shows clearly that [Zinke] does not value this program or how it supports kids and families across the country."