My junior ranger journey began with a happenstance encounter with two ladies who I fondly nicknamed Thelma and Louise, aboard the USS Voyageur in the national park of the same name. Thelma and Louise were about my age and they were having quite the animated conversation about a magazine they were both perusing. Upon closer inspection I saw that the magazine was actually a junior ranger field manual for Voyageurs National Park. I was intrigued, as I always thought that the Junior Ranger program was reserved for kids, so I wandered over and struck up a conversation.
As it turned out Thelma and Louise were visiting national parks across the country and racking up junior ranger badges along the way. And the park rangers absolutely loved it, as the field manual activities and questions make participants — no matter what their ages — think and learn about our national parks.
Thelma and Louise were thrilled when they completed their Voyageurs junior ranger field manual, and they were ceremoniously sworn in before the tour boat docked. As Thelma later told me, “I’ve really learned so much doing this, and the questions are not as easy as you might think. You have to pay attention, study the exhibits and listen to the rangers to get the right answers. It’s such a fun way to learn.”
Over the next few days I observed several other adults with junior ranger field manuals in hand, so when we rolled up to Isle Royale National Park I decided to give it a try. To my amazement the ranger at the Houghton Visitor Center didn’t even bat an eye when I requested a junior ranger field manual with nary a kid in tow.
Earning My Badge
Then the real work began. I opened my field manual, and although there were some easier activities for younger kids, some of the exercises for older kids took some definite critical thinking. For example, I had to learn about the fish in Lake Superior and then name and describe a new species that I was tasked to create. I also had to learn a little about the Native Americans that once inhabited the area, and figure out what natural mineral was abundant on the island. There of course was the requisite maze that tested my knowledge of “leave no trace camping”; and a short quiz to determine what kind of a ranger I would be in real life.
Once I got to the park, I had to go out in search of traces of wildlife, then illustrate my findings and make an educated guess as to what type of animal left the trace evidence. When I returned to the Houghton Visitor Center the ranger checked my work, put on his hat and swore me in as a junior ranger. I then received my junior ranger badge and a super cool moose eraser.
Looking back on my experience, I heartily recommend it for national park visitors of all ages. Even if you don’t go the full nine yards and get the official badges, you’ll still learn a lot about the national parks you visit by completing the activities in the junior ranger field manuals. Best of all, there’s a different junior ranger field manual for every national park, and there’s no cost for the field manual or the badge. And as proven by my recent accomplishment, you really can be a junior ranger at any age.