Mathis wants to waive California State Park fees for fourth graders

Assemblyman Devin Mathis introduces bill allowing every fourth grader free access to every California State Park

TULARE COUNTY – Fourth grade students have only been back in school for a few months but one state legislator wants to make sure they can exercise their bodies and minds by visiting state parks—for free.

Assemblyman Devin Mathis (R-Visalia) introduced Assembly Bill 542 on Feb. 10 to waive entrance fees at California State Parks for all fourth graders. Mathis said children have been stuck inside their homes for nearly a year, depriving them of many aspects of their childhood. He cited research showing children age 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in ways that are more concrete.

“At this stage, they are receptive to new ideas and most likely to hold positive attitudes towards nature and the environment,” Mathis said. “Sadly, many of these students are missing key opportunities to explore our great state and develop an appreciation for our park systems.”

Existing law only allows state park fees to be waived for students who are visiting the areas as part of a school outing or field trips but applies to grades K-12. The bill would waive the fees for any child in the 4th grade, or the 4th grade equivalent, who holds a valid federally issued “Every Kid in the Park” pass. The pass is issued by the National Park Service and gives all fourth grade students and their families an annual pass for free admission. The pass, which normally costs about $80 per year, gives holders admission to national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges.

The waiver will also include both a per vehicle entrance fee, including all passengers in the vehicle, and a per person entrance fee, including up to three people ages 16 and older and any children 15 years and younger accompanying a child with a pass. The bill would require the department to post on its internet website information on how to obtain the federal “Every Kid in a Park” pass, including a hyperlink to the federal program establishing the pass.

Mathis said now was a prime time to introduce AB 542 as more and more Californians are being vaccinated for COVID-19 after a year when their parents may have lost their job, worked reduced hours or simply had nothing left over after paying bills.

“If we act now and secure passage of this bill, then next year students can begin using these passes to explore our amazing state park system,” Mathis said. “The financial relief the bill offers can mean the difference between a new adventure and remaining at home, staring at screens.”

The only state park in Tulare County is Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park in the southwestern corner of the county. The park preserves the site of the first all-black community founded in California. Led by the town’s namesake, Col. Allen Allensworth lead a courageous group of families and individuals who built a place of their own to give their children an opportunity to realize the American Dream of a discrimination-free society.

Other state parks nearby include the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum Park Property. The reserve protects a small herd of tule elk once in danger of extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. The tule elk are most active from late summer through early autumn at the park located on I-5 west of Bakersfield. The mining museum tells the story of explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson, who found the rich Mariposa Vein and opened the first mill to crush ore and extract gold in California. The museum is home to the Fricot “Nugget,” a 13.8-pound piece of gold is the largest remaining mass of crystalline gold from the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The museum is open year-round at the Mariposa Fairgrounds.

For more information on current hours and restrictions at state parks, wildlife and recreation areas, visit www.parks.ca.gov.

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