Interior aims to get more youth on public lands

Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellFeds roll out conservation, energy plan for Calif. desert Celebrating the contributions of the National Park Service at its centennial Greens flood feds with coal leasing comments MORE is trying to give underrepresented youth better access to recreation opportunities on federal land.

Jewell put out a secretary’s order Friday that outlines steps various land management agencies should take to better facilitate public land use by disadvantaged, at-risk and disabled young people.

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The effort is part of the Obama administration’s Every Kid in a Park initiative. The program, coinciding with the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, offers free park access to fourth graders and their families, among other incentives to get children into federal parks.

Jewell said the move is meant to honor the legacy of Douglas Walker, a former technology entrepreneur who devoted significant energy, money and resources to outdoor recreation, particularly in Seattle, Jewell’s hometown. Walker died Jan. 1 in a mountain climbing incident.

“Doug Walker taught us that many at-risk young people stand at a crossroads where a connection to our public lands can literally change the direction of their lives,” Jewell said in a statement.

“I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor his life and legacy than making it easier to welcome young people to the great outdoors,” she said.

Specifically, Jewell’s order asks that the Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation make it easier for organizers of underrepresented youth trips to obtain permits for access to their land and waters.

Interior said obtaining the permits is the top challenge those groups face in accessing federal land, particularly for long, multiday events. They sometimes face large fees, permits for commercial use and various other administrative burdens.

The Forest Service, under the Department of Agriculture, is taking similar steps.

“Our national forests and grasslands have provided inspiration and peace to millions of Americans,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE.

“By making it easier for our youth to access these lands and even to participate in helping us maintain and protect their resources, we are ensuring all Americans for generations to come will have the opportunity to experience a national forest, hike its trails, gaze at its mountain peaks, and row in its streams,” he said.