More than 32,000 school students visited state lands; free field trip program also available for summer programs
In advance of Kids to Parks Day, celebrated nationwide on May 19, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced more than 500 Connect Kids to Parks Field Trip Grants have been awarded to schools from Western New York, sending 32,000 school students on visits to public lands throughout the western regions of New York state, including Niagara, Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua counties since September 2017. Grant program participation in Western New York represents more than a third of total statewide participation, making the program a huge success in areas of the state rich in public lands and natural resources.
Connect Kids is a program funded through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund that provides grants to eligible schools to connect schoolchildren with nature and New York state history. The program refunds up to $1,000 of the field trip costs for visits to a New York state park, nature center or historic site (parks), or a Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Education Center, fish hatchery, or selected DEC sites, and covers costs including transportation, program fees, entry fees and pavilion fees. The 2018-19 state budget includes $1 million for the popular program, doubling the initial investment from 2016 when the program began.
In Western New York, nature centers and historic sites were the most popular attractions visited. State Park guided programs and trips to Niagara Falls State Park were also very popular.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said, "It is so vital that we provide opportunity for children to fall in love with the outdoors and the history around them. We are grateful to Gov. Cuomo for his commitment to this program and I believe that the field trips these children take now will provide a lifetime of passion for the outdoors."
State Parks Western District Director Mark Thomas said, "It is exciting that schoolchildren in Western New York are leading the way in experiencing our state parks and DEC sites. We know that the outdoors provides one of the most thrilling classrooms and I encourage even more schools to take advantage of this program."
The annual Kids to Parks Day was launched in 2011 by the National Park Trust to connect kids and families with their local, state and national parks and public lands.
State Parks oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which are visited by 71 million people annually. A recent study found State Parks generates $5 billion in park and visitor spending, which supports nearly 54,000 jobs and over $2.8 billion in additional state GDP.