Celebrate "National Kids To Parks Day" This Saturday

With hopes of connecting more kids with parks -- local, state, and national -- the National Park Trust is celebrating this Saturday as National Kids to Parks Day, a day to not just connect today's youth to parks, but, hopefully, to instill in them a lifestyle healthier than sitting in front of a computer screen.

The campaign, designed to support First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Outside! campaign and the Interior Department's Youth in the Great Outdoors initiative, "aims to promote healthy lifestyles and foster an appreciation for America’s magnificent national, state and local parks."

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who chairs the Senate's subcommittee on national parks, on Wednesday introduced a resolution marking the initiative and later recounted for reporters how his parents connected him with the outdoors and how he in turn did that for his kids.

"I’ve skied and climbed and hiked all over our Western lands ever since my mother inspired all of us in my family, my five siblings and me, to appreciate the gerat outdoors. As an adult, that passion has led me to climb some of the world’s most challenging peaks, including every one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains," the senator said. "But the most rewarding time that I’ve spent in Colorado’s backcountry has been with my own children, sharing my love for the out-of-doors and our responsibility to care for our national landscapes.

"... Unfortunately," he added a minute later, "I think many kids today spend more time browsing the Internet than exploring nature. I’m passionate about our national parks, and this effort will help lay a foundation ensuring a new generation of Americans will cherish and protect 'America’s best idea,' as Wallace Stegner described our national parks."

At the National Park Trust, Executive Director Grace Lee shared the senator's concerns over the apparent disconnect between youth and parks.

"We, too, are very concerned that kids are spending more and more time indoors, and also that the demographics of residents actively enjoying our parks does not reflect the current and growing demographics of our country," Ms. Lee said. "As environmental stewards, we all know that in order to save it, that people need to see it, and if our kids don’t have a connection to our parks, they will not understand how important it is to protect and preserve them. ... As the wife of a cardiologist, I am very, very aware of what the senator said, that younger and younger adults are being afflicted with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, and much of this is a result of a sedentary lifestyle and staying indoors.”

This Saturday's inaugural event has gained the support of more than 150 mayors who have signed official proclamations, according to the Trust.

Buddy Bison, the woolly mascot and driving force behind the Trust's popular educational program, Where’s Buddy Bison Been? ® encourages children to “Explore outdoors, the parks are yours!”

In honor of May 21st National Kids to Parks Day, the Buddy Bison web site includes an area where kids can pledge to visit a park and provides many resources for outdoor, healthy living, and park activities.

Communities throughout the country have planned National Kids to Parks Day events. Some of the highlights include:

* District of Columbia area students will kick-off the event at the Washington Monument on Friday. Park rangers, educators, environmental leaders and educators will lead children in activities designed to promote physical fitness and environment conservation. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis will address students in a welcome program.

* Santa Monica, California, will host such outdoor activities in city parks as obstacle courses and jump rope challenges, the President’s Challenge Physical Fitness Test, and seminars on healthy eating.

* Duluth, Georgia, is providing a free “Duluth” Frisbee for every kid who pledges online to play in a park on Kids to Parks Day.