If you spend any time around children and youth, you probably know how important it is for them to spend time outdoors. Whether it’s a hike on a mountain trail or just a few minutes on the playground at school, being outside provides a host of benefits that can improve physical and mental health, boost performance in school, and build social skills.
For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval, stress, and trauma, especially for youth and families. Disruptions in the school year and increased time indoors have denied many young people of the crucial developmental experiences the outdoors provide. The pandemic has made it clear: Access to nature is crucial, but many families, especially lower-income families and families of color, can’t access high-quality parks, public lands, and green spaces.
That’s why California’s announcement last week of the “Outdoors for All” initiative is such great news. The initiative, billed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration as the “largest-ever single investment in parks and open space for underserved communities,” will invest more than a billion dollars to create new parks, protect existing ones, and expand access to the outdoors for all Californians.
These investments are crucial. We are facing the overlapping challenges of the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and the nature equity crisis. Both the federal government and the state of California have set ambitious goals of protecting 30 percent of all lands and waters by 2030 to tackle the worst effects of these crises. The “Outdoors for All” initiative will be vital in achieving those goals and addressing these challenges head-on.
California is also launching the State Park Adventure Pass through the Outdoors for All initiative. A state-level equivalent of the National Park Service’s “Every Kid Outdoors” (EKO) pass, this new program will provide free entry for fourth graders and their families to 19 state parks across California.
Although the EKO pass is the only way many families are able to experience our national parks, its scope is limited. For years, the Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign, along with our partners in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, has worked to expand eligibility for the program by having states accept the federal pass in their own park systems or create their own equivalent state-level programs. With its new park pass, California will be the largest single expansion we’ve seen to date.
What’s happening in California is a major victory in our work to build an outdoors that truly is for all, and it’s a model that other states can follow. We must expand access and opportunities to explore nature, and we must protect those lands and waters so future generations can do the same.