Imagine sea spray splashing around you – and maybe a sea lion, too – as you kayak through the kelp forests at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. Or getting a chance to meet some elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Or exploring the tide pools at Crystal Cove State Park. Or studying salmon at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park up north.

Those dream field trips are beyond the reach of most classes. At least, in person.

If most students can’t come to California State Parks, parks administrators decided, they would just have to bring the parks to classrooms statewide.

So the state parks network kicked off the PORTS program. The distance learning program connects classrooms with park rangers through video conferencing so that kids can go on a virtual field trip at several parks around the state – all for free.

Best of all, they don’t just get to see the parks like any other visitor. Instead, they get a behind-the-scenes look at scientific research going on at each location, with the chance to ask an expert any questions they might have. Sometimes they even get to see areas regular park visitors don’t.

For more information about what the PORTS program offers and how to have them virtually “visit” your classroom, visit the California State Parks website.