Recently while on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains we discovered the Junior Ranger Program offered by the National Park service for kids ages 5 to 12. The way the Junior Ranger Program works is that you purchase (or download) a booklet that is age appropriate and has various activities related to the park that you are visiting. The Smoky Mountain National Park book had eleven activities and only eight needed to be completed. In addition the girls needed to collect a bag of trash (which was extremely difficult in this immaculate park) from the park, attend a ranger lead talk and take the Junior Ranger Oath.
After getting the booklets from the Sugarland Visitor’s center we took off, pens in hand, pm a hike to find various trees for one of the activities. The book starts out with helpful do’s and don’ts in the park for kids. Things like don’t pick the flowers etc… Once we had read over those sections they were ready to go. We hiked for a few hours looking at trees reading the names of trees that were marked, discussing various ways of figuring out what tree was what since all the leaves were gone. They even had to distinguish between different types of fir trees. Some of the other activities involved drawing pictures of where we visited and noting the differences between there and home. Visiting a one room school-house and figuring out how it was heated. There were also simple games and puzzles like word searches and mazes that relayed information about the park but were not site specific. Those they did at night in the hotel room while we all decompressed. Once they had completed the activities in their book and collected the trash they needed to attend a ranger led session. The book advised us to talk with a ranger if there were no sessions available during our stay so we did.
On our last day in the park we headed out to finish up the booklets and go talk to the ranger’s at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s center and Mountain Farm Museum to find out what we could do about the ranger lead portion. He was genuinely excited for the girls to get their Junior Ranger badges and gave my husband and I some things to discuss with the girls while touring the farm. He was then going to ask them three questions when they returned. We toured the farm, played with the chickens and took note of the various buildings and what they were made of. We also read about “Bob“, it’s hard not to find a sign about Bob in the park.
Once we were done we headed back to the visitor’s center where Range Bill asked them questions about what they saw on the farm. How many chickens were there? What materials were the buildings made of? and some questions about Bob. They had a great conversation and were able to answer all of his questions. Once that was done, the books were reviewed and signed it was time for the girls to get their badges.
Ranger Bill was fabulous and made a big deal over them getting their badges. They recited the Junior Ranger Oath and promised to take care of the Smokies. He then handed them their signed certificates and let me take a couple of pictures. The girls were so proud and excited to have gotten their Junior Ranger Badges that I don’t think they could have been any happier.
From a parental perspective the Junior Ranger booklet helped guide our visit to the park. It gave the kids a more in-depth view of the park and gave us a jumping off point to discuss the park more thoroughly. We went up into the Smoky Mountains nearly every day and if we weren’t there the kids were constantly asking when we were going to go on another hike. We plan on doing more of these and helping them get Junior Ranger badges from some more of the 300 participating parks.
To learn more about the Junior Ranger Program offered by the National Park service visit http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm