A bipartisan measure introduced by two Colorado congressional representatives to make permanent a program providing free national park access to fourth-graders has passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Every Kid Outdoors Act, H.R. 3186, passed the House 383-2. Its principal sponsors include Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.; Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.
The Every Kid in a Park program was launched in 2015 during the Obama administration and provides fourth-graders and supervising adults free entrance to all federally managed lands, waters and historic sites, including all national parks. It’s intended to help encourage kids to enjoy the parks and outdoors, and possibly become future stewards of public lands.
The program is reminiscent of a Colorado Ski Country USA program that provides fifth-graders passes for three free days of skiing at each of the 22 resorts in the state, to help introduce them to skiing. The federal program provides unlimited visitation for an entire year to fourth-graders.
The program’s future had been in some doubt after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in March that free and discounted park pass programs contributed to the National Park Service’s funding problems. But the Interior Department in June reauthorized the fourth-grader program.
Tipton said in a news release that national parks and monuments “have been the backdrop of countless memories” for him as a lifelong western Coloradoan, “and I want to make sure that all kids have the same opportunity to experience these treasures.
“Economic barriers should not prevent children and their families from visiting these sites that belong to every one of us. The Every Kid Outdoors Act would eliminate one of these barriers, giving fourth-grade children of all backgrounds the chance to visit and learn from national parks for free, and hopefully inspire them to become responsible stewards of public lands.”
The Wilderness Society said in a news release Thursday that a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.