Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and students from Stonewall Middle School at Prince William Forest Park to celebrate National Park Week and highlight the importance of outdoor recreation and education, especially to young people.
Jewell also held a stakeholder meeting to explore ways to leverage public-private partnerships at national parks to better connect youth and families to nature and outdoor recreation -- one of the major goals of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative -- and to promote economic growth and support jobs in local communities.
"When we spark a fire of passion for the outdoors in our children, we give them a lifelong gift of being able to enjoy nature and live healthier lives," Jewell said. "We also lay the foundation for the next generation of conservationists, scientists, business leaders, teachers and beyond that will understand the key role that national parks and public lands play in local communities, drawing visitors and boosting the economy."
Jewell and Jarvis joined students from Stonewall Middle School in Prince William County, Va., in a residential field science program offered in partnership between Prince William Forest Park and NatureBridge. In the program, students live and learn in the park, extending classroom learning with hands-on water-testing experiments of their own design and learning about the Great Depression-era history of the park.
"It is hard to overstate the vital role our partners play in our national parks, allowing us to offer the public programs and services we otherwise could not offer," Jarvis said. "Here at Prince William Forest Park, NatureBridge reaches out to children, especially in urban areas, and gives them a chance to hike through the woods, sit by a stream, learn about ecosystems and marvel at the miracles of the world around us."
"We are grateful that Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis are committed to increasing hands-on learning opportunities for students in national parks," said Susan Smartt, CEO of NatureBridge. "One of our students this week said it best, "This experience has been like nothing I've done before. I never realized how much I can learn outside the classroom.'"
Prince William Forest Park is the largest green space in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, established in 1936 to provide a camp where low-income, inner-city children and families could get away and experience the great outdoors.
More than 2,000 workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park -- originally named the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area -- and it became a model for the entire nation, one of 46 such land-use projects.
In 2009, the Department of the Interior established the Office of Youth in the Great Outdoors to provide leadership, coordination, direction, and oversight regarding the promotion, use, and expansion of programs to engage, educate, and employ youth. Since then the department has built one of the largest and most visible youth programs at the national level, employing more than 84,000 youth ages 15 to 25 through direct hires and partnerships.
Through the Let's Move! Outside and Let's Move! in Indian Country programs, which are both offshoots of the First Lady's Let's Move! Initiative, the department has provided information and opportunities for families to get active in nature -- from urban parks and open spaces, to national parks, seashores, forests, and other public lands.
The department also has partnered with nonprofit organizations to promote active lifestyles through nationwide events, including National Kids to Parks Day, National Trails Day, National Get Outdoors Day, and National Public Lands Day. In 2012, these events engaged more than 300,000 youth and families in active recreation and service projects on public lands and waters.