National Parks Through the Eyes of a Fourth-Grader

How many National Parks have you visited? You may be surprised to find out that a lot of America's fourth-graders have visited more than you! Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park initiative, fouth-graders and their families can enter National Parks free. Read about Sam's experience taking his family to parks in this blog.
Suzanne Gerber Suzanne Gerber
July 25, 2017
by Casey Andrews, Every Kid in a Park Collaborative Project Coordinator

“Look Mom!” I cried. “Bison!”

We were heading to the geysers [in Yellowstone National Park], but when we rounded the corner we saw a field of bison.

We could see a calf fighting its sibling, each one tumbling into the dust. We could see the bulls wallowing in the mud pits. We could even see the cows looking after the calves. It was an amazing sight seeing the bison covering that field like ants covering honey.

That’s one of the many exciting memories Samuel Tinker shared with me.

I had the opportunity to meet up with him and his sister Ruth, to learn about their adventures through the national parks. Samuel used his fourth-grader Every Kid in a Park pass last year to take his family on a national parks adventure. He told many stories that he collected during his visit to eight parks during the summer of 2016 including Yellowstone, Badlands, Grand Teton, and Mount Rainer National Parks along with Devils Tower National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

This is what the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative, a group of local nonprofits and land management agencies led by the National Park Service and IslandWood, is hoping for. This collaborative, with funding from the National Park Foundation, is supporting the initiative by leveraging each other’s expertise and resources to further awareness of this fourth grade opportunity. “Our goal is to inspire the next generation of public lands stewards,” Said Charles Beall, Superintendent of the Seattle Area National Park Sites, says. “Connecting fourth graders and their families with their public lands connects them to their heritage, to their inheritance. Public lands must be accessible to all.” Collectively, this group that includes the National Park Service, IslandWood, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Seattle YMCA Bold and Gold, NatureBridge and the Washington Trails Association, provides multiple opportunities for youth to get outside in addition to the fourth grade Every Kid in a Park pass. This collaborative is working to connect youth to not only federal lands, but their local community parks.

The Every Kid in a Park pass grants fourth-graders free access to more than 2,000 federally managed lands and waters nationwide for an entire year. Federal lands that accept the pass include the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This pass admits fourth-graders and any accompanying passengers in a private, non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas, or the pass owner and up to three accompanying adults at sites that charge per person.


These federal land agencies invite children of all backgrounds to discover our country’s federal lands and all that they offer, including opportunities to be active and spend time with friends and family. As living classrooms, these outdoor places and historic sites also provide hands-on, real-world opportunities to develop critical skills and learn about the natural world. Our goal is to connect our nation’s youth to the great outdoors and build the next generation of outdoor stewards of our spectacular and diverse federal lands and waters. When we visit these lands, we create memories and come home with stories to share, like this one from Samuel’s visit to Yellowstone National Park: 

To my right, the bison covered the ground. To my left, however, it was not plains, but forest and as I looked towards my sister I saw a grey blur. A grey blur?! What was it? I began to look towards the hill wondering what it could be. Apparently, my dad had sharper eyes as he cried out “wolf!” Everyone turned from the bison to look towards the road. 

Sure enough, a wolf was waiting in the bushes. Suddenly it burst from the cover and darted across the road pausing only to look at us. It was beautiful. Then it disappeared into the plains below. Everyone was silent enjoying the moment until, of course, I blurted “That was amazing!” 

The more kids get to experience their federal lands , the more they will grow up with a desire to protect them so that they can be shared with their own kids someday. Or, as in Samuel’s sister’s case, share with her family the following summer. You see, Samuel’s sister Ruth is in fourth grade this school year and she had such a good time with Samuel last summer, she already picked-up her own pass and made a list of places she wants to visit.

The initiative is slated to continue with each year’s group of fourth-graders to inspire successive generations to become responsible stewards of our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. It’s not too late for current fourth-graders to get their pass for summer 2017 to explore their federal lands and waters. Still in third grade? You don’t have too long to wait. Next year’s fourth-graders can get their pass starting September 1st. 

How to get a pass for your fourth-grader

EKIP-logo.jpgStop by Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle’s Pioneer Square (319 Second Ave. S), the Outdoor Recreation Information Center at REI Seattle (222 Yale Ave. N) to obtain a pass for free entry for fourth-graders and their visitors, or go to

To learn more about opportunities and resources provided by the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative please visit

Casey Andrews is the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative Project Coordinator. Her position is in partnership between the National Park Service and IslandWood. The National Park Service and IslandWood are working together to foster the connection between environmental education and meaningful experiences with our federal lands and waters through a grant provided by the National Park Foundation.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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