DENVER POST: Getting the Junior Rangers out there during National Park Week

The Berman girls sign their activity booklets for the junior ranger program at Great Sand Dunes National Park. (Joshua Berman, The Denver Post)

National Park Week is a good time to introduce the whole family to one of Colorado’s national parks

By Joshua Berman
The Denver Post

FRUITA —Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” said the National Park Service ranger in the Colorado National Monument visitor’s center after my daughters, 5 and 8 years old, presented him with their completed activity booklets.

“As Junior Rangers … ” he began. “As Junior Rangers,” they repeated, beginning the oath and then repeating each of the three- and four-word clumps:

“I promise to protect,  Colorado National Monument, and all the rocks, and the plants, and animals, and chipmunks and the cactuses.”

They giggled as he continued: “And after I leave, I will learn about, and protect the natural world, and all the national parks, and I’ll stay safe, and I’ll drink lots of water, and I’ll pick up litter, unless it’s gross.” More laughter. “High-fives! Nice job, girls!”

The visitor center broke into applause as they accepted their badges, smiling ear to ear. That was our introduction to the Junior Ranger program, an activity-based program in nearly all national parks, aimed primarily for kids ages 5 to 13. That summer, my girls proceeded to earn badges in: Mesa Verde National Park, where they identified local animal species and visited archaeological sites; Grand Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where they had to visit a lookout and draw the landscape; and at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where we bought them green, wide-brimmed ranger hats on which to pin their growing collection of badges.

So when I heard that National Park Week, April 16 through 24 — a nationwide celebration of both the importance of our parks and the Park Service’s centennial — was kicking off with “National Junior Ranger Day,” I made plans to be first in line at Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday, April 16. On that day, parks across the country will host kid-oriented activities, plus the new Centennial Junior Ranger booklet and badge will be unveiled.

Taking a step back, for that entire week, entrance fees at all 410 U.S. national parks will be waived. In Colorado, this means free admission to four national parks and eight national monuments.

For me, nothing exemplifies the idea of passing the stewardship of our public lands from one generation to the next than the Junior Ranger program. The genius of it is that my girls had so much fun running around our campsites completing various scavenger hunts for local flora, fauna, and minerals that they barely realized they were learning anything. But they were.

This sank in for me that morning at Colorado National Monument. After the ranger presented my girls with their very first badges and certificates, he put his classic flat-brimmed hat back on and asked them one last question: “Who does Colorado National Monument belong to?”

“To all of us,” answered my 8-year-old, the attentive student.

“That’s right,” he said. “It belongs to all of us. So we have to take good care of it.”

Joshua Berman is the author of six books, including “Colorado Camping” and “Crocodile Love: Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon.” JoshuaBerman.net and twitter.com/tranquilotravel.

This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on April 7, 2016.

GET YOUR NATIONAL PARKS ANNUAL PASS

National park week

April 16: National Junior Ranger Day: Activities for kids and a chance to become a Centennial Junior Ranger.

April 21: Full moon walk in Rocky Mountain National Park

April 22: Earth Day. Opportunities to volunteer 

April 23: National Park InstaMeet: Get out in any national park and use the hash

tags: #FindYourParkInstaMeet, #FindYourPark, #EncuentraTuParque, #NPS100

April 24: Park Rx Day: Feeling down? Your prescription is to go outside in a national park.

More info for families looking to visit National Parks this year:

Nat Geo's "Year of the Parks" includes the release of two updated park guides.Buy a copy of The National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. Centennial Edition (ages 8-12, $14.99), the “official kids guide” to National Parks.  Check out the Every Kid in a Park program for families with 4th graders.

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