Partnering for the Future

    May 15, 2018
    by Grace Lee

    Saturday, May 19 is Kids to Parks Day! Blue Sky is joining the celebration with this blog post from the National Park Trust.

    We at National Park Trust (NPT) value the power of partnerships. It is through our partnerships that we extend our reach and achieve our mission: preserving parks today; creating park stewards for tomorrow. Together with our partners, we work with a single vision: that everyone, especially children from underserved communities, will have an American park experience.

    Founded 35 years ago as a land trust focused solely on the acquisition of high-priority and critically important “inholdings” (lands located inside park boundaries), as well as lands adjacent to our national park boundaries, NPT has embraced a more comprehensive strategy to ensure that future generations will enjoy and value our nation’s parks and public lands. We do this by engaging valued partners—from enthusiastic donors who love our national parks, to teachers in the classroom—who share our vision.

    Park Stewards for Tomorrow

    In 2016, a record breaking 330 million visitors visited our national parks. While this is great news, most of these visitors were older adults. Through our partnerships and programs, we hope to inspire young people from all communities to love parks and the great outdoors. This year alone, NPT is providing robust park experiences for 15,000 students (80 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced- price lunch, the federal indicator of low income) through our Buddy Bison Programs and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest. These students are our future park enthusiasts and stewards of the great outdoors.

    Both programs center around Buddy Bison, NPT’s lovable woolly mascot who encourages children to “explore outdoors, the parks are yours!” NPT created our Buddy Bison School Program in 2009, starting with a small cluster of 6 Title I Schools in the Washington, D.C. area. Little did we know how quickly this program would grow and expand in size and programming as teachers learned of the transformational impact hands-on environmental education has on their students.

    Thanks to our individual donors, foundations, and corporate sponsors—plus numerous parks and program partners, NPT is now supporting 65 elementary and middle schools in 17 states in Washington, D.C.. We plan to grow that number to 100 schools in the next three years. In all of our park programing we focus on the three pillars of our Buddy Bison Programs:

    • Using parks as outdoor classrooms;
    • Promoting health and wellness through outdoor recreation; and
    • Cultivating future parks stewards.

    All of our park trips align with each school’s STEM and history curricula, and understanding the time limitations of Title I teachers, NPT plans all of the logistics and covers all costs including bus transportation, educational materials, and program fees.

    For nearly all of our students, the Buddy Bison School Program is their entrée into parks and the great outdoors. By providing multiple park trips for each student—and renewing our commitment to our schools each year, we are instilling in our youth a love and passion for nature and our public lands and waters. To date, 60,000 children from underserved communities across the country have benefited from this program—5,000 this school year.

    More recently, and in support of the federal Every Kid in a Park initiative, which provides free park passes for 4th graders, NPT created the Buddy Bison Park Experience Program which provides a single trip to a national park for 4th graders, impacting an additional 5,000 students this school year.

    Kids to Parks Day: Finding a Park in Every Neighborhood

    Every year on the third Saturday in May, NPT spearheads Kids to Parks Day, a national day of outdoor play. Started just eight short years ago, and in collaboration with nearly 40 national partners, over a million children and adults participated in 2017 and enjoyed the free local, state, and national park events and programs in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

    In addition, NPT’s Kids to Parks Day National School Contest funds school-based park trips; 92 Title I schools were awarded park grants this year impacting more than 5,100 students in 35 states and D.C. These students are experiencing 90 unique parks including national, state, city, and county parks; USDA Forest sites; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuges; Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps sites, and even a marine estuary! The students are participating in stewardship activities from native tree and flower plantings, removal of invasive species, to stream and trash clean ups. They will also enjoy hiking, canoeing, camping, swimming, yoga, or caving—while learning about science, history, and much more. Plus, they are creating treasured memories that will last a lifetime. 

    Preserving Parks Today

    As we work to create tomorrow’s park stewards, NPT is also diligently working with the National Park Service, land trust partners, donors, and private land owners to acquire high-priority lands listed on the National Park Service acquisition wish list. NPT is proud to report that since 1983, it has completed over 60 land projects benefiting 42 national parks. Most recently, NPT is helping to expand the Appalachian National Scenic Trail by securing funds to purchase a 1,500-acre parcel in Maine. Also in 2017, NPT purchased a small but ecologically important “inholding” in Olympic National Park. Large or small, NPT values collaboration with its partners to protect the integrity of our national parks.

    Stronger Together

    National Park Trust values its partnerships and weaves these relationships into everything we do. Our education initiatives are effective because of the dedication of teachers, principals, park officials, and donors; our land programs have impact because we raise funds and purchase the most critical lands within and adjacent to our country’s national parks; and our public initiatives including Kids to Parks Day have impact because towns and cities across America recognize the value and host free family events nationwide. Together we can trust the National Park Trust so that our national parks will continue to flourish, and today’s children will be tomorrow’s visitors and stewards.

    Simply said, because kids need parks—and parks need kids.  

    Grace Lee is executive director of the National Park Trust. Grace holds a degree in chemistry from Duke University. She previously worked at the National Institutes of Health, and then as an editor for Analytical Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society. For ten years, Grace served on the board of the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, playing a leadership role in the school’s strategic plan and development initiatives, including two capital campaigns and the annual fund. She currently serves on the inaugural board of the newly created Park Institute of America, located at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and recently joined the Duke Chapel Advisory Board. She also serves on the steering committee for the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK).


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