Nine-year-old Robbie Bond is on a mission to protect the country’s national monuments and parks, and in the process, he’s well on his way to visiting all 27 sites by the end of the year.
On Tuesday, he checked Canyons of the Ancients in Southwest Colorado off that list.
“Our motto is educate, advocate and protect,” Robbie told The Journal Tuesday at Sand Canyon.
“But you have to do it in that order because you can’t protect things that you don’t understand. So you have to educate people about the monuments and then you can advocate and protect,” he said.
Robbie and his parents, Robin and Michelle, originally set out in April to visit the nation’s parks and monuments, using the Every Kid in a Park pass, initiated by President Barack Obama. The program gives fourth-graders free entry.
However, when U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced earlier this year, at the direction of President Donald Trump, a review of national parks and monuments, Robbie’s vacation turned into vocation.
Zinke recommended last week the shrinking of the boundaries at a handful of national monuments, but refused to make public any specific changes and would not release his report.
With his parents’ help, Robbie started a nonprofit called Kids Speak for Parks to help kids understand the importance of protecting these culturally and ecologically important places.
“Since President Trump signed the executive order, I decided to do more and make Kids Speak for Parks,” Robbie said.
His father discussed the organization’s possible long-term impact on the order it was created to protest.
“It had a political component when we first started, but it has become so much more now,” said Robin Bond, who accompanied his son and three friends at Sand Canyon on Tuesday.
“It most likely will unfold in the Supreme Court with a lawsuit of some sort, but that wasn’t really our big concern,” he said. “From Day 1, it has been about trying to educate kids about the monuments so that they then are able to advocate for them and protect them.”
Robbie’s quest has attracted the attention of the Huffington Post and Patch.com, and even earned the sponsorship of outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia.
To date, Robbie and his family, from Hawaii have visited 10 national monuments throughout California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. He plans to finish visiting all the parks by the end of the year, he said.
Asked what he would tell Trump if he had the chance, Robbie said:
“I would probably ask him to go to the monuments because you can’t really experience the monuments without going to them,” he told The Durango Herald. “He should learn about them because I think if he does, he’ll have an appreciation for them and not get rid of them or downsize them.”
Robin said he didn’t expect to receive the attention they did on a family vacation. Now, on visits to monuments or parks, knowledgeable locals, scientists and tribal members show up and give them a tour.
Michelle, Robbie’s mother, said the response has been overwhelming.
“It’s just been wonderful hearing from so many people all over the world, sending emails, wishing him the best and standing up for his cause,” she said. “We’re really proud of him.”
Robbie, through Kids Speak for Parks, hopes to connect more kids with the monuments through getting them actually in the parks and more innovative ways such as virtual reality tours.
He met Chris, Nick and Logan Kamper at his Durango hotel, and told them about his mission. The three boys and their mother, Lauri Medina, joined him Tuesday at Sand Canyon.
“The Kids Speak for Parks Education Fund is a program where we are going to be teaching kids about National Parks and Monuments using virtual reality,” Robbie said.
“We are going to be meeting people who know a lot about the parks and monuments so that the teachers at the schools can Skype them or Face Time them and so the kids could ask the expert about, ‘Hey what is that plant thing?”
The opportunity to use media and virtual reality is something the organization hopes will fuel a passion for national monuments.
“Bringing kids into the monuments through that VR experience is going to be something amazing,” Robin said. “I didn’t like reading out of books when I was a kid, and it is going to give them an experiential exercise through this device.”
The project has visited 10 national monuments so far: Giant Sequoia, Periso Plain, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante, Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, Gold Butte, Basin Range, Craters Of The Moon and now Canyons of the Ancients. After their stop in Colorado, Robbie and Robin plan to visit national monuments in Arizona.
To keep up with their travels, follow their Facebook page at: facebook.com/kidsspeakforparks