S. 1522

A bill to establish and Every Kid Outdoors program

STATEMENT OF ROBERT VOGEL, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 1522, A BILL TO ESTABLISH AN EVERY KID OUTDOORS PROGRAM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

July 19, 2017

Chairman Daines, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1522, a bill to establish an Every Kid Outdoors program, and for other purposes.

The Department recommends that Congress defer action on S. 1522 until we have an opportunity to review all of the Department’s youth programs and determine the most cost-effective strategies for engaging children, youth, and young adults in our nation’s great outdoors.

S. 1522 would establish in statute a program based on the administratively established “Every Kid in a Park,” which was an initiative launched during the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 as one way to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors.  To date, Every Kid in a Park has reached over 350,000 fourth graders across the country and has provided an outdoor classroom for teachers and students across our 417 national park sites and other public lands.

S. 1522 would build upon Every Kid in a Park and continue to nurture and create future generations of stewards as they learn about their environment and conservation all while enjoying and recreating in America's great outdoors.

S. 1522 would direct seven specified bureaus in four agencies to jointly establish the Every Kid Outdoors program to provide any United States fourth grader with a pass to gain free access to publicly accessible Federal lands and waters.  The bureaus that would establish and administer the program would be the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The student would request a pass which allows the student and accompanying individuals free entry to applicable Federal lands and waters managed by the above-listed agencies.  The pass would be valid from September 1 to August 31 of the following year, and would require the student to be present at time of entry for the pass to be honored.

S. 1522 would require the agencies to collaborate with state park systems interested in adopting a complimentary Every Kid Outdoors state park pass.  It would also require the agencies to develop and maintain an official Every Kid Outdoors website that would contain essential program information.  All the participating agencies would be authorized to provide a variety of visitor services in support of the Every Kid Outdoors program, and could also provide transportation to and from Federal lands and waters for students participating in the program.

The bill would require the agencies to jointly develop an annual report, to be submitted to Congress, describing the implementation and execution of the program in addition to capturing statistical data such as the number, demographics and geographical distribution of students who participated in the program; the number of students who received transportation assistance; the number of passes obtained and redeemed; and the number of website visitors.  If the bill were enacted, execution of its requirements would be subject to the availability of appropriations and would need to be balanced with other competing priorities.

In developing the Every Kid in a Park program, the Department focused on children 10 years of age—the age of most fourth graders—based on research that indicated children ages 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways.  At this stage, they are highly receptive to new ideas and most likely to hold positive attitudes towards nature and the environment.  By targeting this age group year after year, the program aims to ensure every child in the United States has the opportunity to visit their Federal lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old, thereby establishing a lifelong connection to enjoy and protect our American outdoor heritage.

If the committee acts on this bill, we recommend that the committee amend the bill in several areas: to include home-schooled students; to better define “access” to public lands; to allow coordination with the Department of Education; and to require that non-federal funding be used for any transportation costs of students to and from the public lands.  We would be happy to work with the sponsors and the committee on language for these amendments.

Chairman Daines, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee might have.