Every Kid in a Park gives gift of outdoors

Published 8:51 pm Saturday, October 1, 2016

Every fourth grade student is being given the extraordinary gift of the outdoors this year.

For the second consecutive year, fourth graders around the country will be able to participate in the Every Kid in a Park initiative that allows students and their immediate families, up to three adults or one carload, to visit some of the nation’s state parks, federal lands and waters for free during their entire fourth grade year.

“The idea behind it is to get every fourth grader into national parks,” Vicksburg National Military Park superintendent Bill Justice said. “Every fourth grader nationally is eligible to get into any national park in the system. Now that’s amazing.”

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He said Bess Averett, executive director of the Friends of the National Military Park and Campaign, coordinates field trips with the school system to bring students to the park and organizes a special program for them during their visit.

He said its important to teach children the stories and history of the park and there isn’t a better way than taking them to the park.

“We’re trying to reach out to all fourth graders because that’s a time when they’re getting either Mississippi history or American history for the first time. It’s important for them because this is our legacy to them,” Justice said. “We feel if we help those kids really take advantage of what a park is and what they can learn here, then they’ll understand that and be able to teach it to their kids.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supporting the initiative as well. The agency reported hosting about 7,000 fourth graders last year at the 250 corps river and lake sites participating in the program.

“When people want to come to our day use areas like beaches or things like that, they and their family get in free just like when they go to the park,” said Greg Raimondo, chief of the USACE Vicksburg District public affairs office.

While those areas aren’t located locally, fourth graders can take a day trip north to the four Mississippi lakes — Sardis, Enid, Arkabutla, Grenada — and get in free to hunt, fish, hike or just enjoy the scenery.

“They’re all up in the Mississippi Delta up in the Yazoo Watershed,” Raimondo said.

He said the program is a great way to make these destinations accessible to people no matter their family’s income.

“I think what’s great about this program is it gets kids interested in the outdoors,” Raimondo said. “It’s about discovering and learning and understanding the value of getting to know nature.”

Children can get their free passes at the park or by visiting everykidinapark.gov. The passes are valid until Aug. 31, 2017.