Junior Ranger Day - and an Essay Contest with a Serious Prize

Kids with ranger at Mesa Verde NP.

Future Junior Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park. NPS photo.

A number of NPS areas are offering special activities for Junior Ranger Day on April 25, 2009, and a related Junior Ranger Essay Contest offers a serious prize: a $1,000 Visa gift card.

The NPS Junior Ranger program operates in many parks year-round. Interested students complete a series of activities during their park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and Junior Ranger certificate. The motto of the program is, “explore, learn, protect: be a Junior Ranger.”

More than 225 National Park Service sites will host youth-oriented activities on Saturday, April 25, 2009, for the 3rd annual National Junior Ranger Day. "The Junior Ranger program is the National Park Service signature program for young visitors," said acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk. "Throughout the year children earn badges and certificates after completing age-appropriate park related activities at their own pace. On Junior Ranger Day many parks will have additional special events and guided programs. Children will also receive commemorative 2009 Junior Ranger Day pins and certificates."

Here's a sampling of Junior Ranger Day events around the country:

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (California). Maritime related hands-on activities teach kids the skills needed to be a sailor. Raise a sail, turn a capstan, pump the bilge, tie knots, learn the signal flag alphabet and try out a few maritime crafts. For more information: 415-447-5000

Biscayne National Park (Florida). Kids who complete requirements for the Junior Ranger Badge can a enjoy a free boat trip. Maximum two adults per junior ranger; siblings welcome. Boat seats are limited and will be assigned on a first-come, first served basis to the full-day participants. Reservations recommended: 305-230-1100.

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts). Militia Muster and Drill for Junior Rangers from 1:30-1:55 p.m. Join a costumed park ranger, participate in a militia drill and watch a musket firing demonstration. Supplied with wooden muskets, Junior Rangers will be challenged to master battle drill formations from 1775. Recommended for ages 6 and up; limited to 30 participants. For information call 978-318-7825.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee / North Carolina). Go salamandering and compete in the Animal Olympics. Make traditional items such as blacksmithed dinner bells, corn shuck dolls, historic toys, pottery whistles, beeswax candles and small brooms; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Oconaluftee Visitor Center. For information call 865-436-1290.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky/Tennessee/Virginia). Junior Rangers muster trailside and meet Civil War cavalry as they ride through the Gap. Along the way, be challenged by soldiers from both sides who take hikers to their camps to provide a glimpse of the everyday life of a Civil War soldier; 10 a.m. For more information: (606) 248-2817

The NPS website includes a list of Junior Ranger Day events at parks across the country, and a related on-line program, Web Rangers, is also available for "kids of all ages."

Now, here's the information that I bet caught the eye of at least some grown-ups: The 2009 Junior Ranger Essay Contest.

The National Park Foundation is asking youth across the nation to share ideas on how to protect and preserve America's National Parks. Kids aged 9 to 12, with the help of a parent or guardian, have through May 1 to submit an essay of no more than 500 words on this theme: Why are our national parks important to you and what is your best idea to protect our parks for the future?

The First Prize winner will win a $1,000 Visa gift card and the opportunity to direct a $5,000 contribution from the National Park Foundation to his or her favorite national park. The funds will be used by the park to put into action big ideas like those included in the winning essay. The top three essays will be featured in the Junior Ranger Gazette and on the National Park Foundation website!

You can submit an entry for the essay contest online and view the official rules at this link.

Now, aren't you relieved to know that your kids can complete their essay with the help of a parent or guardian? Maybe your youngster can even find a way to work in that new verb that I'll bet a few of you learned in the above list of activities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park: "salamandering."