Whichever National Park Service Ranger came up with the Junior Ranger program is a genius! It has not only provided the kid’s with some excitement, it’s made them pay attention on the trip, tours, and adventures through the park, as they fill out their pamphlet or worksheets to attain their mighty badge.
These programs exist in most of the parks and are well worth pursuing if you have a full day or more to spend in the park. One of our most memorable experiences was the ‘swearing in’ of the boys at the Old Faithful ranger station after they completed their activity booklets for Yellowstone. The ranger that swore them in noticed the boys “Phillies” shirts and then started telling us stories from his college days (he was Mike Schmidt’s roommate from OSU…too cool!).
Some Junior Ranger programs have puzzles and coloring pages and can be a welcomed diversion for frazzled parents when relaxing in hotel lobby (hypothetical example, of course :-). One activity book (Bryce Canyon) included a plastic glove and the junior ranger hopefuls had to have a parent sign as witness that they picked up some trash on the trails and threw it away – great idea!
On the White House tour in Washington DC, their program served as a great reminder of renovation dates, Red Room highlights, and some other fun presidential home facts that our kids just learned.
One of the requirements to be a junior ranger at the Grand Canyon was to attend a ‘Ranger-led Talk’…something I’m not sure that I would have done otherwise. We chose to hear a talk on the rim about the California Condor. It was awesome! The kids quoted stats from the talk on the rest of our road trip and I certainly looked skyward with awe in search of this airborne beast. This was just one of many topics that the Grand Canyon offered.
National Parks have a lot to offer…the Jr. Ranger program helped us make us make sure we didn’t miss the good parts!
If you’re still on the fence for this program…here’s the best part…most of them are FREE! A few of them have suggested a couple-of-dollar donation to help defray the costs (more than fair), but most of them did not. Rangers along the way would also ‘light up’ and tell stories and quiz the kids when they saw the activity books. I have become so impressed with America’s National Park system over the last several years…and this program is a way to get the next generation to see what a gem these parks truly are!