LANSING — Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of 186 federal parks that will split the $1.1 million National Park Foundation grant to set up field trip programs.
The $4,820 grant secured last fall will get local kids educated through public parks, said Melissa O’Donnell, the interagency education specialist at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Hiawatha National Forest. The money was raised through a crowdfunding campaign, supported by the hashtag #FindYourPark on Twitter.
The foundation’s Open Outdoors for Kids program supports the White House youth initiative called Every Kid in a Park. The field trips give elementary school kids a chance to experience public land. National Park Service officials say parks and public lands offer kids great opportunities to get their feet wet while collecting water samples, studying wildlife in its natural habitat or exploring where history happened.
Schools within Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District, Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District and Marquette Alger Regional Educational Service Agency were encouraged to apply for the grants.
“We’re hoping to reach 400 to 500 fourth graders. It’s a lofty goal,” O’Donnell said.
Repeat exposure to public lands and a curriculum that places students in the natural habitat they are learning about “hits home,” she said. On a first-come, first-served basis, winning schools will participate in site-specific activities at Pictured Rocks or Hiawatha Forest and also receive a post-field trip classroom visit from program coordinators.
“If the students visit Miners Castle where there are some impressive rock formations, the kids will focus on geological education aspects, such as landform and composition,” O’Donnell said. “If they are on the lakeshore, they will be taught about water ecology and things like that.”
O’Donnell’s interagency position allows her to build programs that unite the strengths of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
“The Every Kid in a Park Initiative calls on each agency to make it easier for fourth graders to go on field trips,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell has also partnered with the Clear Lake Education Center in Manistique Township to build the field trips’ curriculum.
“They have a longstanding history of providing outdoor education,” she said.
To foster the future of national parks, the National Park Foundation’s “strategic funding will remove barriers to accessing our nation’s public lands and waters, with a special focus on underserved and urban communities,” according to the foundation. O’Donnell says a couple of schools have applied, but there’s still space for interested fourth graders to participate.
Other Great Lakes region federal sites that received the National Park Foundation’s grant include: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena; Two Rivers National Wildlife Reserve in Brussels, Illinois; and Hoosier National Forest in Bedford, Indiana.
— KAYLA SMITH