By Guest Blogger Aprille Donaldson, author of the blog Beautiful In His Time
Our family has enjoyed hiking as a pastime since before our children were born. In fact, our first hike as a family with children was when our son was 22 months old. Then when our son was 2 1/2 when we moved here to the Triad. One of the many things that we love about living in this area is the access we have to all of the amazing state parks that North Carolina has. Our children (now 2 and 7) have grown up on the trails of Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain, Stone Mountain, and others within a few hours driving distance from Winston Salem.
Then in 2016, I found out about the NC State Parks Junior Ranger program for kids. Here is how they describe the program on their web site:
“Explore, learn and help out your state parks! Junior Rangers is a fun way for children to explore with their family, scouts troop or youth group. Activities are geared for children ages 6-12.
Natural Resource Protection. Junior Rangers help park rangers take care of the park’s natural resources. Plants, wildlife and clean water are important natural resources.
Environmental Education. Junior Rangers teach their family and friends what they learn about the park and how to take care of it.
Responsible Recreation. Junior Rangers have fun at state parks! They follow park rules to stay safe and so the natural resources are here for the future.
A different Junior Ranger patch is awarded at each park.”
As our son was already talking about being a “real ranger” when he grew up, we knew this would be a perfect fit for him!
Where the NC State Parks Junior Ranger program differs from other organizations is that no commitment is required. Your child can become a Junior Ranger and earn a badge for as many parks as he or she desires. The child can do this independently, by completing a booklet of activities for each park, along with a service project helping an actual ranger.
Click the link below to learn how these brothers became the first to earn badges at EVERY North Carolina state park in 2013:
The NC State Parks holds Junior Ranger “events” statewide at the different state parks. These events vary year to year. The NC State Park Junior Ranger Program also has a quarterly newsletter and their very own “Ask a Ranger” podcast!
Our family was honored to attend the 2016 Junior Ranger event at Hanging Rock State Park, which was a special event held to commemorate the 100th birthday of the NC State Parks.
The children gathered with the rangers under a picnic pavilion. Free bananas were available to the children. The group was then split into smaller groups, each assigned to a ranger who acted as a tour guide. At our first station, we learned about trees and leaves.
At the second stations, we explored different nature items that had been planted on the trail for the children to find (such as a snake skin and an old, empty bees nest). At the third station, we learned about the history of the North Carolina State Parks, and the children jumped through an obstacle course where the rocks represented some featured parks.
We created some nature art, and then we listened to a ranger talk about some of the history behind certain landmarks of the park. Finally, we were able to participate in a service project, where we held fill in newly-built steps at the park.
Children who stayed for the entire event were able to receive a certificate and a badge. They were sworn in as official Junior Rangers for Hanging Rock State Park. The children also received a wall poster of Hanging Rock. Official NC Junior Ranger vests were not provided, but can be purchased on the NC State Parks website.
We hope this is a fun activity that your family we enjoy as much as we do!
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