Becoming a Junior Ranger

Anikin Allen works on the activity book for the California State Parks Junior Ranger program. | Katherine E. Hill

The Tahoe Sierra has an abundance of land designated for public use that provides endless opportunities for those of us who love to be immersed in nature. This land is preserved and cared for by agencies such as the California and Nevada state park systems and the U.S. Forest Service. These agencies work to foster continued conservation and hope to pass this practice on to future generations.

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To achieve this, these agencies focus on educational outreach with programs such as the Junior Ranger program. Kids are naturally curious and want to learn about the world around them. The Junior Ranger program taps into their curiosity and teaches them the importance of protecting our natural resources through fun games and activities.

Junior Ranger programs vary among public agencies, but most are suited to ages 5 to 13. Most offer self-guided programs and participants receive a guidebook or logbook with activities to complete on their own while they explore the park. The activities generally include playing games, hiking trails, observing wildlife, identifying plants and listening to talks.

Anikin Allen worked on earning his California State Park Junior Ranger badge after a recent visit to the Balancing Rock at D.L. Bliss State Park. | Katherine E. Hill

Guidebooks are usually available at the visitor center, park office, ranger station or camp host and sometimes online. Once the required activities are complete, the book can be turned in at the same location or submitted by e-mail or mail, and kids receive a badge.

My 6-year-old son Anikin has done several Junior Ranger programs and enjoys the activities. When we visit a park or other public area, we check to see if they offer a program. It usually takes Anikin about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each activity page with a little help from an adult. Sometimes he is required to take a pledge before receiving the reward, which is often a Junior Ranger badge or patch. He’s so excited about earning badges during our trips, that he insisted on getting a ranger vest to put all of his badges on.

Recently we took a trip to D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe and got a California State Parks Junior Ranger Adventure Guide from the entrance station. This is a more generic guidebook that can be used and submitted at participating state parks in California. The guide is available in English and Spanish. Some of California’s state parks also offer programs specific to the area but are only available by visiting that park office or station.

The first few pages in the guide ask questions about general information and special features about the park. My husband Luke recorded the name of the park and that we took a hike on the Balancing Rock trail. We also recorded that the park is named after Duane Leroy Bliss and is a testing ground for American bald eagles.

Anikin Allen shows off his Junior Ranger vest sporting National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service badges. | Katherine E. Hill

Anikin completed the Signs and Symbols page where he matched the sign or symbol to the correct name or description. He identified signs for hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and other important universal park symbols. Some he knew and others we helped him figure out. He also completed the Park Safety Search and Junior Ranger Word Match, which were fairly easy for him.

Some of the other pages prove a little more difficult such as ones with questions about nature and ecology. There’s one that asked him to write a poem, another to look for signs of wildlife such as tracks or feathers.

With a little assistance, he finished the guidebook. Luke read the Junior Ranger pledge to him and Anikin signed the page promising to care for and protect the earth and all living things, to be careful in his actions and to learn about the importance of nature and heritage. We still need to turn in the completed book to get the reward and Anikin is hoping it is a badge like the ones he has earned before.

Other California state parks in our areas that offer Junior Ranger activities are Emerald Bay, Sugar Pine Point and Donner Memorial state parks. Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee has a guidebook specific to the park and offers a guided experience with a park ranger. Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park also has a program at Sand Harbor.

Check online or call the office, station or visitor center at the area you plan to visit to inquire if Junior Ranger programs are available before you go. | kids.parks.ca.gov