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National Park Week in New Mexico gets kids outdoors

State Parks, National Park Service Announce Expanded Statewide Collaboration for Kids in Parks Programs; Some Elements Are First in Nation.

From the New Mexico State Parks

"State Parks and 13 National Park Service units in New Mexico are expanding their cooperative efforts to get kids to state and national parks."

New Mexico State Parks and the National Park Service in New Mexico today announced an expansion of statewide collaboration between the two agencies to get kids in parks for outdoor learning experiences. Some new elements of the collaboration are the first in the nation. The announcement was made at Petroglyph National Monument in recognition of National Park Week (April 19 – 27) and National Junior Ranger Day (April 26), with two state and four national park officials in attendance.

"National Park Week in New Mexico will be a celebration of our state's 13 national parks and monuments, as well as a celebration of an emerging partnership with New Mexico State Parks," said Kayci Cook Collins, Superintendent of El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments. "We share many goals, among them an interest in getting more kids connected with nature, so we're linking arms and looking at ways to work together to get kids and families outside."

“New Mexico is a national leader in Children and Nature programs,” said State Parks Director Dave Simon. “We are eager to do more and especially to strengthen our relationship with the National Park Service to benefit kids.”

State Parks and 13 National Park Service units in New Mexico are expanding their cooperative efforts to get kids to state and national parks. With the announcement, New Mexico is one of the first states to implement a “Children and Nature Plan for Action” charter signed in September 2007 by the National Association of State Park Directors and the National Park Service. The stated goal of the charter is “to see this nation’s children and their families again fully participating in outdoor recreation activities and rediscovering their natural and cultural heritage” and commits state and national park agencies to “promote a national campaign to recognize the importance of connecting children and families to nature.”

“By sharing our resources we are able to get the word out to teachers and children,” said Petroglyph National Monument Superintendent Joseph Sánchez. “It is about giving children the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a way that will impact their lives forever. We have the natural resources in New Mexico to really make a difference!”

National and state parks in New Mexico already are collaborating in many ways, such as program sharing between parks that are in close proximity. National Park Service personnel also have been closely involved in development and implementation of the New Mexico Outdoor Classroom Program led by New Mexico State Parks. Several new program elements, however, were announced today, including:

To celebrate Junior Ranger Day this Saturday, National Park units in New Mexico will give away New Mexico State Parks “Family Outdoor Explorer Pass” coupons to kids who participate in Junior Ranger programs at national parks in New Mexico. The coupons are valid for one free day use visit or one free night of camping in a state park. In addition to the coupon, participating kids will get a goody bag with a 2008 Junior Ranger Day patch, badge, pin and a coloring book from the National Park Service. This is the first time that New Mexico state park coupons have been distributed at National Park sites.

National Parks and State Parks also plan to collaborate on a “teacher-ranger-teacher” program to hire local teachers as rangers during the summer months. The Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program, which was started by NPS but now will involve state parks, will link national and state park units with teachers from urban and rural school districts. Participating teachers will supplement park staffs with resource education and conservation, visitor services, visitor safety and other related park duties. The program also allows teachers to more fully explore national and state parks and then enrich their classrooms during the school year with a clearer understanding and appreciation of park resources and learning opportunities.

State Parks “Kids n’ Parks” transportation program will also send nearly 400 New Mexico schoolchildren to national parks in 2008 for curriculum-based outdoor classroom learning. The program is funded by taxpayers who make voluntary contributions on the annual New Mexico Personal Income Tax form (PIT-D). The grants can be used to bring school children to an outdoor education program. Students must participate in a curriculum-based program at the outdoor classroom location and teachers must evaluate the effectiveness of the experience.

These programs and more have evolved as the first in the nation following the signing of the national charter. The two agencies are exploring additional ways to collaborate and build partnerships for the long term.

Attending the event were five National Park Service superintendents including: Joseph Sanchez, Petroglyph National Monument; Kayci Cook Collins, El Morro and El Malpais National Monument; Kathy Billings, Pecos National Historic Park; Brad Traver, Bandelier National Monument; and New Mexico State Parks Director Dave Simon and Instructional Coordinator Rob Yaksich.

National Park Week is an annual presidentially-proclaimed week for celebration and recognition of National Parks, which are living examples of the best this Nation has to offer: magnificent natural landscapes and varied yet interrelated heritage. The Junior Ranger program is designed to engage children and families in the stories embodied in national parks. Parks can provide recreational experiences, opportunities to learn and grow, and places of quiet refuge. For more information, visit www.nps.gov.

Over 75 years, State Parks has evolved from a federal New Deal initiative in 1933 to a vibrant system of 34 parks serving over 4 million people annually. New Mexico State Parks celebrates its 75th Diamond Anniversary throughout 2008 with a 3-carat diamond bracelet giveaway, special events, a Geocaching Challenge, Outdoor Classroom initiatives and more. For more information, call 888-NMPARKS or visit www.nmparks.com.

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