WITHIN the past 9 months, our family has fallen in love with the National Parks. A few years ago, most of them wouldn’t have even been on our radar. We knew where the Grand Canyon Yellowstone National Park were. But, do you know where to find Cuyahoga Valley National Park? Can you point out the difference between Glacier National Park and Glacier Bay National Park? We couldn’t. Now we can’t get enough of the National Parks, and our kids would be happy to point them out for you on a map.

Ever since learning about the Every Kid in a Park pass that grants free admission to 4th graders and their families, we’ve been on a mission to see as many parks as time and money will allow. Since September of 2016, we’ve witnessed the sun rising over Haleakala National Park and seen our 50th state grow larger by the minute at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We’ve experienced stunning and somewhat formidable winter-scapes in Rocky Mountain National Park and explored underground worlds at Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest cave system in the world. And, we’re just getting started — perhaps not a moment too soon.

These parks and public lands are endangered, not from natural disasters, but from drastic cuts in government funding. Soon there may not be enough budget allocations to properly manage these treasures. If any of you have visited one of these parks or any of the 419 parks under the care of the National Park Service, then you know what a tragedy the closing down of our National Parks would be — and why we should all be concerned and involved in their futures.

If it weren’t for the Every Kid in a Park program, our family might have gone on not understanding the threat to the National Parks that is looming. I suspect many other families don’t even realize what is going on, and so we’re trying to do our part to get families involved by simply promoting America’s National Parks. Get out and see your parks; I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll love and wish you had started sooner.

Climate change, politics, and budget cuts are all chipping away at our National Parks, and it’s important that we help policy-makers understand that America’s Parks are non-negotiable. They are not leverage in budget talks. They are American treasures and must be treated as such. Support agencies like the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation, the National Park Trust, and Every Kid in a Park for the work they do and the services they provide.

What can families do right now

Our wish isn’t politically driven. It’s simply to spark a life-long love for the parks in yourself and your family. Maybe you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be filled with peace while looking out across beautiful wild vistas. Re-find that serenity, passion, and gratitude, then help your children ignite that passion for themselves.

Do you remember visiting a National Park as a kid? If so, make a special effort to re-create that memory for a child you care about. Do you remember the first time you saw Old Faithful erupt or watched the sun set over Arches National Park ? Go relive that memory with your children or grandchildren, so it can be etched in their memories.

I love that our own kids know what it’s like to watch new earth form right before their eyes in a fiery glow. They could have read about an active volcano in National Geographic Magazine or seen it on television, but it’s not the same. Not even close. Make the natural world real for them, and they’ll want to come back for more.

We plan to do just that by visiting several more parks this summer. We’re loading up the car to find Cuyahoga Valley National Park (it’s near Cleveland, Ohio), and we’re traveling to Florida and the US Virgin Islands to visit Everglades National Park ; Dry Tortugas, USVI National Park and Biscayne. Our kids can’t quit talking about our plan. This kind of excitement doesn’t happen by accident. All it takes is a little bit of planning, a coffee table book with great photos, and a free weekend.

This summer, consider adding a National Park or Monument to your vacation. Set out to inspire the next generation of park stewards and caretakers to respect and love all of our public lands. The theme parks and beach resorts will still be there several years from now, but our National Parks may not be — our National Parks need families now, more than ever.

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