(This post was prepared with the help of Jim Richardson and Friends of State Parks.)
Fewer and fewer youngsters are able to make a field trip to a state park during their early school years, even parks close by their schools. There are many educational pressures that contribute to this, but a survey of more than 800 teachers by the state Office of Environmental Education revealed that a lack of funds is the principle reason.
When invited, park rangers will eagerly take interpretive programs into classrooms, but there’s no good substitute for a walk with a ranger on the trail and the outdoor experience of a state park. Valuable lessons and often a life-long love of nature and conservation can begin that way.
Friends of State Parks (FSP) is tackling this issue at a basic level with its YIP-EE program (Youth in Parks-Environmental Education) that makes mini-grants to any park friends group willing to work with local public schools to get kids outdoors. The grants provide up to $400 to pay for transportation and healthy snacks (the ranger programs are always free). The funds come from a memorial fund in the name of John E. Graham, a beloved former FSP stalwart.
Last April, FSP began its effort with a pilot program involving Eno River State Park, the Eno River Association and Lakewood Elementary School, an inner-city school in Durham. The effort brought groups of fifth graders into the park for a day of exploration and discovery. Most recently, such a grant was awarded to Friends of Gorges and Brevard Middle School. As a result, 200 seventh graders will soon visit Gorges State Park for an exciting “Survival Day” program.
Read more about the innovative program and about how to contribute here.