“iPads are not allowed in National Parks,” my dear friend told our 9-year-olds as we approached the gate to Mt. Rainier National Park. Nice! I wonder if we should tell other parents they can use that?, I mused. “They will yank those passes right away if they see you on them!” she continued. Dang, another solid Momism, I thought, adding this statement too, to the ‘family folklore’ section of my mental Rolodex. Effective too, as the boys quickly stowed their devices and turned their attention to the giant trees looming outside their respective car windows.
The passes in question were the free, Every Kid in a Park passes available to every fourth grader in the United States. As part of the 2016 celebration of the National Park Centennial, the Every Kid in a Park program is designed to entice fourth graders and their families to visit the country’s National Parks and Forests to discover wildlife, history, and natural resources.
We had spent the night before at a great cabin just outside the Park, so we were fresh and ready for a day of media-free adventure. The ranger at the Nisqually Entrance fee station welcomed the boys, exchanged their paper passes for a plastic card, and had them sign the backs. We had planned a full itinerary, and our voyage began with a stop to admire 176-foot high Narada Falls. Afterward we checked out the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise where the boys spent time scoping out lahar paths and learning about glaciers. Later, we took hikes to look for marmots and deer, and admired the architecture of the historic Paradise Inn.
As can be expected with 9-year-old boys, eventually things got…sillier. As the day went on there were moments where I thought I couldn’t get to the Park boundary fast enough to free ourselves from the, self-imposed, ‘no iPad’ rule. Honestly, there comes a point when one can’t take any more bodily noises and potty humor that seems to so easily delight young boys. For folks who may want to preserve their sanity balance media time with their National Park experience, know there are plenty of educational and informative geocaches hidden just outside Mt. Rainier National Park, as well as EarthCaches inside the Park, that can provide some screen time, and potentially offset any “close quarters” pitfalls associated with traditional car trips. The Visit Rainier Centennial Geotour will offer 100 new caches over 2015-2016.
Acquiring the Every Kid in a Park pass is easy. If you have a fourth grader, simply visit www.everykidinapark.gov, follow the instructions, and print a paper copy of the pass. Take the printout to a National Park fee station and exchange it for a plastic pass. Educators can also print paper passes for their students. Passes are valid September 1, 2015-August 31, 2016, and allow free entrance to National Parks and National Forests for fourth graders and every person traveling with them. A fourth grader must be present to use the pass. Passes are also supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Check out the individual websites for special Every Kid in a Park programs.