Nate Edwards, BYU photo
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
Every spring break, visitors flock to national parks across the country for some fresh air and quality time with loved ones — many hiking for free as families thanks to the Every Kid Outdoors program.
The program allows families with fourth-grade students free entry to national parks and other US government agencies for a year. Two researchers from Brigham Young University found in a recent study that the program, while having positive effects, may not have the intended effect on all American families.
The study’s co-authors, Camilla Hodge, assistant professor at the Marriott School of Business, and Jocelyn Wikle, assistant professor of family life, used the American Time Use Survey as the basis for their findings. They analyzed responses from 5,119 families and compared data from 2013 to August 2015, just before the Every Kid Outdoors program began, and data from September 2015 to 2016, the program’s first year.
Hodge and Wikle presented two possible outcomes of the Every Kid Outdoor program.
The first was that families would respond to the access charge being imposed, so we expected to see an increase in migratory behaviour,” Hodge said. “Based on previous research, we expected that there would be a concentrated response among low-income households, meaning we would see an additional bump in migratory behavior in low-income households.”
The researchers found that the program resulted in a significant increase in migration among families. In particular, those with fourth graders hiked seven times more on any given day after implementing the program. However, this increase was mostly seen among high-income and white families.
Data from Hispanic and African American families showed a slight increase in migration. However, this increase was not considered significant enough. Families in the bottom half of the American income distribution also showed no increase in migration.
While it’s clear that the Every Kid Outdoors program has got more families hiking, Hodge and Wikle’s findings suggest that more needs to be done to make national parks accessible to all.
“While the increase in hiking with children may be a positive development for strengthening family ties and creating a more active lifestyle, the data shows there are still hurdles to overcome,” said a press release distributed by BYU. “Given that the original goals of the program were to equalize access to public lands for households of all incomes and ethnic and racial groups, the study raises awareness that the policy may require some additional adjustments.”
Studies have shown that family time outdoors can improve family relationships, reduce screen time, and improve children’s mental health. So what is the solution to get more families into national parks? According to Hodge, the answer lies not just in changing the Every Kid Outdoors program, but rather in systemic change.
“A lot of the factors that will create challenges that will prevent people from having outdoor recreation are things that really can’t be addressed by this policy itself,” Hodge said. “It’s about fair pay and making sure people have livable wages and better infrastructure for transportation in and out of states.”
According to Hodge, she and Wikle believe the Every Kid Outdoors program is good, but that additional support is needed to get more families spending time on public lands.
“You know it can really be any kid in a park or any kid outside,” Hodge said.
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