Albany, NY - April 20, 2016 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced New York State is launching the "Connect Kids to Parks" program to enhance educational and recreational opportunities for schoolchildren and help promote parks and historic places in every corner of the state. As part of the effort, New York will partner with the National Park Service to extend free State Park day-use entry to all fourth-grade students and their families in 2016 as well as create a grant program to help transport schoolchildren to outdoor recreation and environmental education programs in State parks and historic sites.
"New York is home to some of the most exceptional examples of scenic beauty anywhere in the world," Governor Cuomo said. "To see them is to love them and through this program, we will be expose more young New Yorkers to these world-class parks in their own backyards and inspire a new generation of environmental stewards."
In 2016, New York State Parks, as well as day-use areas operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation, will accept the Every-Kid-In-A-Park pass upon presentation for vehicle entry into all State Parks as long as the fourth grader is present in the vehicle. The pass will also be accepted at State Historic Sites for the pass holder and up to 3 adults for house tour fees. Details about the program are available at www.nysparks.com. The Obama Administration announced in early last year that it will provide all fourth grade students and their families free admission to all National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year.
Additionally, the 2016-17 State Budget includes $500,000 to develop a transportation program to bring more K-12 students—particularly those from underserved areas—to State Parks and public lands. As a component of the state's enhanced Environmental Justice programming, State Parks and the Departments of Environmental Conservation will provide direct grants to school districts through the Environmental Protection Fund to cover the costs of transporting 4,000 school children to State Parks educational programing at nature centers and historic sites.
"America is blessed with unrivaled public lands and waters, and through Every Kid in a Park, we’re inviting every fourth grader and their families to enjoy our nation’s great outdoors," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "Through this program, every fourth grader - including those in New York – will have an opportunity to nurture their curiosity and wonder, developing a lifelong connection to our nation’s land, water and wildlife in their backyards and beyond."
New York State Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Rose Harvey said, "Expanding opportunities for our children to spend time in parks and nature is one of the best things we can do to help them build mind and muscle. By making this special commitment to expand our children’s horizons, Governor Cuomo continues to build this State’s rich tradition of environmental stewardship. I am grateful to our many partners for making this effort a reality."
Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Encouraging children to check out the many wonders of nature provides them with a learning experience that they won’t find in any classroom or textbook. This unique initiative shows Governor Cuomo's continued commitment to encourage young children from all backgrounds to respect the environment and feel excited about giving back to it."
National Park Service Deputy Director for Congressional and External Relations Denise Ryan said, "The Every Kid in a Park program is successful because of collaboration and coordination across government agencies at every level, and the National Park Service is proud to have the support of the state of New York. Now, fourth graders from across the state can enjoy and explore the great outdoors, from Adirondack State Park to Fire Island National Seashore, and everything in between!"
To support the administration and operation of the free 4th Grade Entry program, the Natural Heritage Trust has secured $300,000 in funding commitments thanks to the generosity of the following: Lucy R. Waletzky, MetLife Foundation, Long Island State Parks Foundation, Alfred P. Sloane Foundation, and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
MetLife Foundation President and CEO Dennis White said, "Access to open spacesis vital to the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. We are honored to join New York State, program partners and other sponsors in connecting schoolchildren and families with parks and public lands for education and recreation. Building healthy communities by leveraging local parkswill yield positive outcomes for years to come."
There are an estimated 220,000 4th Graders in New York State. Research shows that children who interact with nature before age 11 are more likely to have positive attitudes about the natural environment, and many state parks and historic sites have educational programs that serve fourth grade students. In New York, the grade 4 social studies core curriculum focuses on civics, community and New York State history—making it a perfect school year to visit a New York State Park.