COLUMN: Getting Every Kid Outdoors
At the end of September, we celebrated National Public Lands Day. Communities across Colorado marked the occasion by hosting volunteer and recreation events and National Parks offered free admission. Growing up in western Colorado, National Parks have been a big part of my life and have been the backdrop of countless memories for me and my family. I believe it is important for kids across the country to have the opportunity to experience the wonder that is our National Park system.
Part of my work in the House Natural Resources Committee is focused on increasing access to public lands, and the committee recently considered a bill that would help facilitate more recreation opportunities on public lands across the country. The bill, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act (H.R. 3400), would update and streamline the special recreation permit process, support public/private partnerships for maintenance on public lands, and increase veteran participation in stewardship programs, like the Conservation Corps.
In July, I helped introduce a bill that I believe would be a good complement to the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act. The bill, the Every Kid Outdoors Act (H.R. 3186), makes permanent a program that provides fourth graders and supervising adults with passes for free entrance to federally managed land, waters, and historic sites that typically charge an entrance fee. As we work to increase recreation opportunities on public lands, it is important to remember that many families who live in communities surrounded by public land may not have the resources to visit those lands.
This point was brought up during the hearing by Kevin Heiner, the Associate Director of the Southwest Conservation Corps in Durango, CO. Although Kevin was appearing before the committee to discuss ways to further engage veterans in the Conservation Corps, I asked him to think back to 2001 and 2002 when he served as the crew leader for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The Youth Corps engages kids age 11 to 18 in community service projects, and the projects not only provide the kids with educational opportunities, they also help develop the future stewards of public lands. I asked Kevin to speak about the benefits of engaging kids in this age range and the impact it has for public lands. Kevin indicated that that it is important to create young stewards, and in Southwest Colorado, there are a lot of economic factors that serve as barriers for families wishing to visit National Parks and National Monuments and recreate on public lands.
I appreciated Kevin’s insight during the hearing, and it further solidified my opinion that the Every Kid Outdoors Act fits well with H.R. 3400. I will be working to find ways to include the bill, or language from it, in H.R. 3400 as we move through the legislative process. I welcome any feedback you have on either bill, so please do not hesitate to contact me through my website, www.tipton.house.gov.