"I believe this program is going to change the world."

When four-year-old Nash Gates takes his mom on a hike, they move at his pace. And Heather Gates is just fine with that. “We have a lot to learn from what kids naturally see, if we take time to see the outdoors as they see it,” she says.

With more than a million acres in national and state forests and parks, it’s only natural for North Carolina’s children to go outside and play. It should be second nature to connect a new generation of stewards with our state’s valuable park resources, while at the same time improving the overall health and wellness of those who participate.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation invested in the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to develop the Kids in Parks initiative to increase physical activity for children and their families by linking them to existing resources for physical activity – targeting national, state and local parks. Kids in Parks introduces children to parks, nature and physical activity on “TRACK” (Trails, Ridges and Active, Caring Kids) Trails, which overlay self-guided exploration challenges on existing trail infrastructure.

There are currently nine TRACK trails operational in various North Carolina parks and 1,200 children have been introduced to the program through guided hikes. More than 480 active participants are registered on the website (www.kidsinparks.com), and more than 35 new partnerships with national parks, state parks, the forest service and local parks have been created through this project. Kids in Parks was noted in The New York Times and is viewed nationally as a model program for connecting children to nature for physical activity and stewardship.

Over the next three years, at least 75 new TRACK trails will be developed in North Carolina with a goal of getting at least 180,000 children active on the trails. In addition, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation will establish a National Training and Technical Resource Center in Asheville with the anticipated outcome of training at least 100 national partners on Kids in Parks. Through these outcomes, Kids in Parks will be well on its way to improving the health of families across the nation. And children like Nash will have plenty of opportunities to get active outdoors.

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