By Guest Blogger Holly Bass

When Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina, a non-profit that seeks to preserve and protect the state’s waterfalls and educate the public about these natural wonders and how to properly take care of them, launched in November of 2020, the kids program,  Junior Keepers, was already in the works. As a mom of one adorable 8-year-old son who loves to hike and chase waterfalls, I knew that putting together a program for kids to learn about nature and enjoy waterfalls would need to be created.

I’m the Associate Director of Waterfall Keepers of NC and I have a slight waterfall addiction. If you’ve ever experienced that first sight of a waterfall as you come around a bend in the trail or splashed in the pool at the base of a waterfall or watched as your kids quiet for just a second when they behold an awesome waterfall, you know can probably see how this could become an addiction. I am also a math professor so understand the importance of education – add education and waterfalls together and you’ve got a fun learning experience!

The Junior Keeper program is part of the Waterfall Keepers organization and focuses on education, conservation, play, and exploration. Parents like to contribute to their kids’ education but, speaking from my own experience, sometimes do not know where to start. Through the Junior Keepers, we have done all the work for parents and they don’t need to do anything to encourage their kids in the love of the outdoors except to take them outside.

When kids sign up to be Junior Keepers, they are able to complete challenges to earn badges as well as fill up a Waterfall Passport by visiting certain waterfalls and earn prizes.

There will be two badges every year that Junior Keepers can earn. This inaugural year, kids can work towards earning the Conservationist and Creek Critter badges. The activities are geared for children but they are absolutely family-friendly and ideal for everyone to have fun and get involved. For example, to earn the Creek Critter badge, Junior Keepers will take photos of critters they find in creek and visit the Pisgah Center for Wildlife where they can see a Hellbender in person – all totally free activities.

For the Conservationist badge, kids are encouraged to pick up litter at their favorite trail or waterfall, color the Conservationist color sheet and note the trash they found, write about why litter is harmful to the environment and how things could be improved at the sites where they went. Lowe’s has donated five-gallon buckets for Junior Keepers to use while picking up trash, which will be given to them once they sign up!

As mentioned above, the Waterfall Passport is also part of the Junior Keepers program. Waterfall Keepers of NC has partnered with several North Carolina State Parks and the passport encourages kids and their families to visit waterfalls located in five of those state parks this year. In 2022, more waterfalls will be added and Junior Keepers will be able to win prizes by completing the passport.

In addition to the Lowe’s bucket, kids will also receive a patch and Junior Keepers sticker when they sign up, which is totally free. If a child wants to join as a Junior Keeper Member, there is a small fee but it comes with a free Youth Pass to Chimney Rock State Park. We have big plans for Junior Keepers that we hope kids and their families will truly enjoy. Over the next year, Junior Keepers will introduce an outdoor conservation curriculum, educational hiking opportunities, and Junior Keeper programs at state parks.

The time I spend with my son outdoors has become some of our most treasured memories. We have a lot of fun together learning, exploring, and making memories. Junior Keepers wants to encourage that outdoor time together for kids and their families as well raise up the next generation to have a healthy respect for and love of nature. I hope that offering the Junior Keeper program is an easy and fun way to make that happen.

To join Junior Keepers, head over to our website here.

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