Not much is normal for children (and indeed for all of us) this year. A constant? That nature is just as great as always. And many federal and state parks and organizations are working to expand affordable access for children and their families.
Yes, we know it’s cold and dark very early these days. If anything, it’s even more of a reason to purposefully go outside, said Kate Siber, author of the recently published book “50 Adventures in the 50 States,” a book about kid-friendly expeditions. At this time of year, “you can almost feel like the world is approaching when you spend all the time inside,” said Ms. Siber, adding, “When you are outside you are reminded that the world is a world much bigger place than your mind would lead you to believe. “
When the 10 month claustrophobia hits you at home, it’s time to bundle up and go. Here’s how to do it and keep your already overloaded December budget intact.
The Every Kid Outdoors program
Since 2015, all publicly accessible federal states have been free of charge for fourth-grade students and their families, and in 2019 the Congress reintroduced the initiative as the Every Kid Outdoors program. According to Chelsea Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, the agency selected fourth graders based on research that showed that age was particularly receptive to learning and appreciating nature.
“By focusing on this age group for years, we want to ensure that every child in the US under the age of 11 has the opportunity to visit their states and waters to create a lifelong connection and protect our American heritage outdoors,” she wrote in an email.
To participate, children can register at everykidoutdoors.gov and complete a short interactive activity. Parents can download and print out the parking permit. Passes are valid in more than 2,000 locations administered by the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Forest Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In October, the Home Office temporarily expanded the Every Kid program to include fifth graders as many parks closed during spring closings.
Parks for the rest of us
If you don’t have a fourth or fifth grader, there are still plenty of ways to enter national parks or recreational areas, mostly for free. While Yellowstone National Park and other “Crown Jewels” areas of the National Park Service have high car entrance fees, other lesser-known locations like Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida and Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma have free bonuses to attract less crowds . Information on fees and operating times can be found on the Park Service website. Some parks or facilities may be closed due to the coronavirus.
There will also be six days in 2021 when areas managed by the National Park Service are free for everyone. You can find the entire list on the National Park Service website.
Many state parks also offer children free entry or, like New York, honor the Every Kid Pass. Dan Keefe, a spokesman for New York State Parks, added that many parks stop charging parking fees in the winter, making this the perfect time of year to get out.
Other states have low admission fees: In Maine, children under the age of 5 get free entry to state parks, and children between the ages of 5 and 11 pay just $ 1. In Vermont, kids ages 4-13 are just $ 2, and kids under 4 are free.
Just look it up
Ms. Siber, who lives in Durango, Colorado, makes a point of going outside every night to see the stars. “You can see the stars almost every night, but even if you can’t, you can still connect with the vastness of it,” she said. In a moment like this, it can be comforting to know that there is more out there.
If your garden is too urban for star gazing, a short drive might give you a full buffet of planets and passing satellites. The International Dark Sky Association certifies dark sky parks and urban night sky locations around the world. In many parks, such as New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument, there is no entry fee or no fee at night. Some, like Rappahannock County Park in Virginiaeven, partner with local astronomy clubs to get free nighttime programming. However, double check before you set off.