Junior Ranger Program aimed at kids

HOMESTEAD, Fla.— South Florida’s national parks offers a plethora of different activities for every member of the family.

While older family members can enjoy fishing, snorkeling, hiking, or boating, there are plenty of programs at the parks for the little ones to take part.

With many educational and hand on programs to choose from, one of the parks most popular is their Junior Ranger Program.

Children can sign up for the Junior Ranger Program at any of the Visitor Centers   — such as this one at Biscayne National Park (Staff photos).

Junior Ranger programs, for children 8 to 12 years old, are available at National Park Service parks all over the country.

The Junior Ranger Program consists of a booklet with activities and questions the kids have to answer by visiting different areas of the park.

A booklet can be picked up for free at a park’s Visitor Center.

After completing the booklet, the child can send it in and receive a special Junior Ranger Program badge. If a child completes the booklet section for each of South Florida’s parks, they can receive a special patch.

The South Florida program is available at Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park, and the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The program is special in South Florida because it is a joint system. Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park each use the same booklet. Within the booklet specific pages are delegated to each park.

Though individual programs have been established in South Florida’s parks for many years, the Junior Ranger Program is currently undergoing a renovation. The new booklet will be in circulation in time for the fall season.

Everglades National Park Ranger Allyson Gantt, one of the three people in charge of the program’s renovation, hopes that the new booklet will appeal more to children.

“We’ve added more color as well as interactive activities,” Gantt explained. “We want to get the kids out of the car and their faces out of the book, make them do things.”

Parents should ask rangers or park volunteers for information about the Junior Ranger Program.

Maureen McGee Ballinger, Everglades National Park’s supervisory park ranger, is overseeing the rewrite. According to Ballinger, the new booklet has received an excellent response.

“We have been testing the program on visiting school groups and have received a lot of positive response,” Ballinger commented.

The new booklet focuses around the diverse ecosystems of South Florida. Joele Doty, Biscayne National Park’s education coordinator, hopes that the program educates families about South Florida’s ecosystems, why they are important to us, and why we should protect them from destruction.

“There are four major ecosystems in South Florida, the mangroves, shallow estuarine bays, northern Keys, and coral reefs,” Doty explained. “Some of these occur in multiple parks, some are special to just one.”

The main purpose of the Junior Ranger Program is to get kids excited about nature. Many times parents come to the parks for fishing or boating trips. Instead of the kids just sitting around all day watching their parents, the program offers a day filled with fun activities and adventures.

“The kids go do it while the parents do their own things,” Doty said.

Gantt believes the renovation was necessary. Interest in the program was on a decline.

“The older booklet had a lot more text, and the kids were not as able to do it by themselves,” Gantt explained. “We found they were asking parents for help or going to park rangers for all the answers.”
By making the new program more interactive and hands on, they hope kids will get much more out of it.

For kids who are interested in going farther with the Junior Ranger Program, the National Park Service offers and online Web Ranger program. Kids can go online and choose any park in the country to complete a program at right over the computer.

After completion the child will be sent a Web Ranger certificate. This is free of charge and can be done for any park in the country.

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