The Junior Ranger motto is “Explore, Learn and Protect!” This program is one of the park system’s best ideas to get children interested in, and educated about, our national parks, recreation and conservation areas, and other public lands. What few may know is that there is no age restriction of any kind on this program. One of the writers on the RoadTrip America site has been a Junior Ranger for many years and she has grandchildren!
More than 200 parks offer Junior Ranger experiences, including dozens in the Southwest and West. To start off, just head to the visitor center at the park you are visiting and ask for a Junior Ranger booklet. At most parks the booklet is free but some, such as Yosemite and Zion, charge a nominal fee.
Each booklet is specific to the park that offers it, and children can use it at their own pace. Depending on the age of the child, he or she will fill out a specific number of pages. A five-year-old might be encouraged do just three pages, but a teenager of fourteen might complete an entire twelve-page booklet. Activities they might have to do range from identifying the flora and fauna in the park to writing a poem or drawing a picture of an animal they might have seen there.
Some parks’ booklets are tougher than others and many even require that the youngster take in a ranger program, hike a trail, or watch a short introductory film.
Once the child, or the grown-up kid, completes the required number of pages, you return to the visitor center and a ranger will look it over. If everything is correct, then the ranger will swear in the child as the park’s newest Junior Ranger. The new Junior Ranger gets a ranger badge bearing the park’s name, and some parks even offer a patch which can be sewn on clothing.
A great virtue of the program is that it motivates children to visit another park, and have the fun of earning another badge. Of course, it also educates them and establishes a foundation for a life of healthy and intellectually stimulating outdoor activity, but it’s okay if you don’t tell the kids it’s good for them.