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Big Bend National Park's "Good Neighbor Day" A Success Despite Remote Location


The day's event included performances from area school bands, dance troupes, and mariachis. NPS photo.

Finding ways to get students to parks is an ongoing challenge, especially with school budgets for field trips facing cuts in many areas. Those difficulties are magnified in places like Big Bend National Park, since it's many a mile from the park to the neighboring towns. Thanks to help from partner organizations, a recent "Good Neighbor Day" at Big Bend attracted a nice crowd of students, parents and area neighbors, and many of those attending were first-time visitors. 

If you haven't visited Big Bend, you may not appreciate the significance of the participation in the event by multiple schools in the region. This area is a classic example of the wide open spaces of the West; the largest town "near" the park, Alpine, has a population of 6,054, and it's located 119 miles from the Rio Grande Village Group Campground, where the event was held.

Despite the challenges of time and distance, students from Alpine made the trip to the park for the day's activities, along with others from towns such as Marathon (88 miles, population 430) and Presidio (112 miles, population 4,079). A park spokesperson noted that the trip was more than a two hour drive'”each way'”for many of the participants.

David Elkowitz, Chief of Interpretation, Partnerships and Concessions at the park, says "the event saw school children from all the regional schools come to the park, from elementary age to high school." In addition, "many parents and neighbors attended," Elkowitz noted. Total turnout was about 650 people, and for many, it was their first visit to the park.

"Good Neighbor Day" was held on Saturday, October 18, and was sponsored and funded by the Friends of Big Bend National Park and the National Park Foundation. Forever Resorts, Inc. provided a free lunch which included hamburgers, hot dogs, and all the trimmings for all participants. The sponsors provided transportation stipends for the schools, covered the costs of educational materials in support of a teacher-ranger-teacher position, and provided a lunch to all who attended.

Events duirng the day included performances from area school bands, dance troupes and mariachis, and local partners offered fun, educational booths about the region's natural and historical wonders.


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The event included a welcome from park officials. NPS photo.

Given the distances to the park from towns in the region, a key factor in the success of the event was the transportation funding provided through the National Park Foundation's "Ticket to Ride" program. It "provides the much-needed funds to make national park field trips possible for schools across the country." 

 "We know that one of the greatest barriers keeping America's youth from visiting their national parks is access to transportation," said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. "Through our Ticket to Ride program, we eliminate that barrier and open up a world of experiential learning in our nation's largest classrooms'”our national parks'”and help inspire stewardship of these treasured places."

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