Imagine hiking up a hill at Beavers Bend State Park or digging up selenite crystals at the Great Salt Plains State Park.Feel your body stretch as you do a few yoga poses. Breathe in the crisp air as you walk down hidden trails. Feel the adrenaline of kayaking down a feisty river or reeling in that big catch of the day while fishing.
If the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department has its way, kids of all ages in Oklahoma will experience just that. Offering a free passport to Oklahoma’s state parks, the department is encouraging kids to get outside, get active and get healthy while having fun in the state’s most beautiful places.
The Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Health, unveiled a new program this spring designed to get kids outdoors and active. The Oklahoma State Parks Passport Program was created to encourage fourth graders – and children of all ages – to live healthy by visiting any of Oklahoma’s 34 state parks with a free passport booklet.
Inside the booklet are fun physical activities that children can “log” in their book, including yoga poses, 30-minutes of walking and other park-specific activities. Keli Clark, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, explained the kids who sign up are prompted to get outside and be active at state parks. In return, they’re rewarded with tokens and medals. Clark said many Oklahoma children have never even been to a state park before. The passports aim to change that.
Fun and Educational
Oklahoma’s 34 state parks are among the most diverse in the nation, located in mountains, deserts, plains, water ways and more. Each park has its own personality and its own activities that children can explore, Clark said.
“We’ve taken these passport books statewide to the public schools. Each book has a regional map in the six regions in our state,” Clark said. “As the kids and their families go to each state park, they get a sticker to put on that park’s page.”
Each state park has a different sticker to reward, and once families visit six parks or one park six times, they can earn their first token. Children can earn a bison token for six parks up to an Osage Shield token for all 34 parks.
“These are really cool tokens that feature Oklahoma-centric images,” Clark said. “This will be a big thing for kids to collect. We thought they would love something they can collect and show off as a reward.”
The passport books encourage families to start visiting the parks and learning about the fun available in the parks.
“It’s all about getting kids outdoors and healthy,” Clark said. “If the kids want to do it, then we can get mom and dad outdoors too. It’s really a true family program.”
Excitement About Activity
The Oklahoma State Parks Passport Program was also designed to encourage physical activity and health at those parks.
Developed with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Department of Education, the books also show 10 yoga poses kids can do while at the park. In addition, children will have to conquer 30 minutes of walking or hiking and then choose two park-specific activities like swimming, boating, horseback riding, swinging or climbing.
“Once they complete a certain number of fitness goals, the kids can earn fitness medals. If they do the goals at six parks, they earn a bronze medal. They get a silver medal for 12 parks and a gold medal for finishing the fitness goals at 18 parks,” Clark said. “Since each park is different, the activities they can choose from are different too.”
Based on Governor Mary Fallin’s push to make health a priority, the Oklahoma Department of Health found that partnering with organizations like the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department offered unique opportunities to get young residents excited about being outdoors and active.
“We have wonderful, wonderful state parks that are being underutilized, and these parks are all over our state and in many cases, free to enter,” said John Friedl, physical activity and nutrition manager for the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “You hear a lot of the older generation talking about playing outside, but our society has changed. This program allows kids to have free play outdoors in a safe setting.
“It’s all about being out in the sun, breathing the fresh air and appreciating and connecting to nature in Oklahoma. It’s hard to quantify, but you know the feeling you have when you are in a beautiful park. You see so many health and mental benefits of being outdoors and being active.”
In Oklahoma, 14 percent of adolescents do not get the recommended amount of activity and 33 percent of adults have had no physical activity in the past 30 days, Friedl said.
“This is all about incentivizing people to go out, visit our wonderful state parks, do a few things and get a little prize,” he said. “Hopefully, by doing this, it becomes a lifelong passion. By targeting children, hopefully that carries over to their parents as well.”
To get a free Oklahoma State Parks Passport book, visit any state park. Find some of our favorite state parks for families here.
Want more ideas for outdoor fun? Click here to see what one nature expert and mom has to say about getting kids outside.