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Our Junior Ranger Story Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation

The state-wide Junior Ranger program was started in Idaho State Parks in 2017. It provides a major marketing component for the agency that connects directly to the agency mission, provides a rallying point for staff and volunteers, adds another attraction, and provides a way for youth to make meaningful and lifelong connections with parks, helping to secure a stronger future for state parks.

The main focus of the Junior Ranger Program is to help children have fun in the outdoors while learning about our parks and making connections to the natural world, which helps to foster a sense of stewardship. Participants use the Junior Ranger Guide to complete the program activities.

The Guide Includes...

  • Park-specific activities
  • Safety and Leave No Trace information (Kids Edition)
  • Information on Idaho’s state plants and animals
  • Information on nocturnal wildlife you may see or hear while camping in the parks
  • Activity ideas for making a sound map
  • Questions designed to help participants reflect on their park visit on the way home.

The Junior Ranger program is self-guided. Participants select from four of six activities to achieve a recognition level. After completing the activities at the park, a park staff member or volunteer stamps their Guide. After completing the four activities at their first park, they receive a Junior Ranger Badge. At their second park, they receive a Junior Ranger patch, and at their third park visit, a Junior Ranger certificate signed by our mascot, Scout.

A Junior Ranger program on insects at Lake Cascade State Park led by Ranger Beth Schadd.

The success of the state-wide Junior Ranger Program 2017-2021 can be credited to a partnership between field and headquarters staff. There are many people across the agency that helped this program to succeed, from the Experience/Education Supervisor who created program and training materials, the Interpretive Team that helped provide feedback and lead the training, Executive Staff who supported the concept and made the funding happen, to our Public Information Officer marketing the program in a variety of ways to help visitors take advantage of the opportunity, the Public Information Specialist who helps with supply orders, Finance staff processing the paperwork behind the scenes, a variety of HQ staff that helped with delivery of Junior Ranger supplies to the parks, and most of all, the park staff and volunteers who took the time to give youth an opportunity to participate in the program.

“My son participated in the junior ranger program — he checked out a backpack and used all tools in it… He completed 6 tasks in the book returning to the observatory area to get his ranger pin. It was such a positive experience that we have since made plans to visit the two other state parks that are within 100 miles of us. Again, it was an experience my family will never forget. It check marked a box on my daughter's bucket list, it encouraged my son to get outdoors and see state parks, and it was a perfect family weekend with wonderful memories. Thank you!” -Letter from Visitor to Bruneau Dunes State Park 2019

Junior Ranger Program Development Timeline

Prior to 2016, there was no state-wide Junior Ranger Program in Idaho State Parks. A few parks had individually developed their own Junior Ranger programs and materials, with the booklet created at Heyburn State Park by Bryce Bealba being the outstanding example.

2016-2017

In the Fall of 2016, the Experience/Education Supervisor began development of a state-wide Junior Ranger Program in Idaho, utilizing the experience of having worked in three other state park systems, as well as conducting a review nationally of other Junior Ranger Programs. Components of the system created included goals for the program, a logo, a Junior Ranger Manual for staff, training, tri-fold brochure, Junior Ranger Guide, individual park stamps, and a three-tier recognition system including wood badges customized with each park name, patches, and certificates.

IDPR Junior Ranger Program Goals

  1. Connect youth with Idaho Nature and History
  2. Deepen youth understanding to a sense of place
  3. Cultivate stewardship through inspiration
  4. Reach diverse and underserved audiences by increasing awareness of the program and its benefits
  5. Encourage outdoor recreation
A Junior Ranger hike at Castle Rocks State Park led by Ranger Jen McCabe.

As the Experience/Education Supervisor created Junior Ranger components, he worked with the state-wide Interpretive Team to have them review and provide feedback for each part of the program for practical implementation in the field. This partnership between HQ and Field staff was helpful in rolling out the program with significant success in the first year.

Starting in 2017, the Annual Interpretive Training offered by IDPR included sessions on how to both operate the Junior Ranger Program as well as providing a sample of a Junior Ranger presentation designed for participants ages 6 to 12 years of age.

The Junior Ranger Guide was created to allow the program to operate either as a self-guided program, or with participation in presentations designed for those ages 6 to 12 in the Junior Ranger Program. The flexibility in the program was achieved through having participants complete four out of six choices for activities to receive a level of recognition. With this flexibility, parks that do not have a dedicated Interpretive Ranger to offer presentations can still provide the Junior Ranger Program in their park. To encourage participants to visit more than one park, there are three levels of recognition, with each Guide having space to complete the activities for recognition three times. Another aspect of flexibility in the program is the option for participants that are remaining at one park for a longer time to continue on to the next level of recognition at that park, as well as having the option of moving on to a new park to complete the next level of recognition.

“Thank you for all your help on getting the Walcott badge & Cascade badge. My daughter & I came home today after camping at Castle Rock to the badges waiting for her. My daughter likes to wear the badges for about an hour… So we decided a shadow box would be the best way to display all her badges. Attached are the pictures of her shadow boxes of state & national parks. We plan to add many more this year :) Thank you again!” -Letter from visitor to Lake Cascade State Park 2021
Shadowbox of state park Junior Ranger badges from a Lake Cascade State Park visitor.
Shadowbox of national park Junior Ranger badges from a Lake Cascade State Park visitor.

On March 16, 2017 park managers confirmed participation in the program for twenty-two parks for the first year. (City of Rocks National Reserve participates in the NPS Junior Ranger program.)

Training was held at Harriman State Park May 15, 2017. The Junior Ranger manual was passed out at the May training. The Junior Ranger manual was also placed on a shared drive for all staff to be able to access.

During the summer of 2017, the Experience/Education Supervisor received phone calls from families about the Junior Ranger Program; they were planning their family vacation around which parks offered the program!

At the end of the first year in offering the state-wide Junior Ranger Program, an extensive evaluation of the program was conducted. This included a survey of all twenty-two parks that participated in the first year, as well as an interactive workshop with the state-wide Interpretive Team coordinated by the Experience/Education Supervisor. Participation in the Junior Ranger Program in 2017 was estimated at 6,000 participants, based on the number of Junior Ranger Guides distributed. During the evaluation of the program in 2017, two major improvements were planned for 2018: the Experience/Education Supervisor suggested expanding the Guide content to include information specific to the parks in the program, and the Interpretive Team suggested expanding the accuracy of how participation was measured to include only those who had graduated from the program. This required the creation of a new Monthly Interpreters Report Form. Interpretive Rangers used the form starting in 2018 to report the number of badges, patches, and certificates distributed.

A Junior Ranger program at Harriman State Park led by Ranger Morgan Smith.

2018

A new greatly expanded Junior Ranger Guide for 2018 was created. This twenty-four page booklet greatly elevated the quality of the Junior Ranger program materials.

To facilitate the expansion of the Junior Ranger Guide to include park specific content, an interpretive intern at HQ supervised by the Experience/Education Supervisor assisted in working with park staff on the creation of park-specific content, as well as Idaho content specific pages on Leave No Trace, Safety First, Idaho’s plants and animals, Creatures of the Night, Listening to Nature, and reflections on the Journey Home. The new expanded Junior Ranger Guide was quite popular. The Monthly Interpretive Report worked as planned to track those completing the program. Participation in 2018 increased to 9,667 participants that had graduated from the program. This included 6,421 badges awarded, 1,886 patches awarded, and 1,360 certificates awarded.

Cover of the Junior Ranger Guide

In 2018, Henrys Lake State Park volunteered to join the Junior Ranger Program, bringing the total number of parks participating to twenty-three.

Ranger Errin Bair at Farragut State Park worked with park staff and volunteers to create a Junior Ranger Station to help support youth interested in participating in the Junior Ranger program. The project was implemented by a team effort with the support of Park Manager Randall Butt and Assistant Manager Erin McKindree, along with a variety of park staff and volunteers helping to refurbish a room at the park Museum. Volunteers take turns staffing the room to help support Junior Ranger activities. The room features several learning stations with activities designed for explorers ages 6 to 12. Experience/Education Supervisor Jamie Little took photos and wrote a story for IDPR News on the Junior Ranger Station at Farragut to help encourage other parks to consider similar areas.

Junior Rangers getting started with their guides

2019

In 2019, the Junior Ranger Guide received minor updates on two park pages. The program continued to be popular, with 8,061 participants. This included 5,801 badges awarded, 2,003 patches awarded, and 2,257 certificates awarded. Looking at individual parks comparing 2018 with 2019, twelve parks went up in participation, and eleven had declines in participation. Staffing changes at some parks may have impacted participation levels. Another difference between 2018 and 2019 was that 2019 had greater numbers graduating at the second and third levels (patches and certificates), which reflects participants who had earlier completed the first badge level and were now returning to continue participating in the program.

Feedback from field staff in 2019 indicated that participants were avidly filling in more of the Guide than required, with many completing all activity pages in the Guide.

2020

The National Association for Interpretation announced award winners for interpretive media at the NAI National Conference.

In the category of Site Publication, second place was awarded to: 2019 Junior Ranger Program Activity Guide, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Brainstorm Ink, Cornwell Creative (Brainstorm Ink and Cornwell Creative are the contractors hired to do the graphic design work for the publication)

First place went to: 100 Years, Millions of Lives, One Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon Conservancy, Shine Creative Industries, Roger Naylor

Third place was awarded to: Pocket-sized Fold-Up Trail Brochures, Birds New Zealand, Treasures of Tane, New Zealand, Silent Spaces, United Kingdom, Southern Colour Print, New Zealand

The creation of the 2019 Idaho Junior Ranger Activity Guide was accomplished through the leadership of the Interpretive Team (consisting of the experience/education supervisor and six park managers and rangers). 2019 Team members include Kathleen Durfee, Manager at Old Mission State Park; Mary McGraw, Manager at Round Lake State Park; Wallace Keck, Manager at City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park; Errin Bair, Ranger at Farragut State Park; Courtney Davenport, Ranger at Lucky Peak State Park; Terri Bryant, Ranger at Ponderosa State Park; and Jamie Little, Experience/Education Supervisor from HQ. Also important were the contributions of many park staff from the Junior Ranger parks. Each of the parks has an individual page with customized content for their park within the Guide. The Guide supports Junior Rangers as they learn more about the parks, explore Leave No trace concepts, safety in nature, and the flora, fauna, and history of Idaho.

Junior Ranger setup at Farragut State Park

For 2020, the Junior Ranger Guide was updated on three park pages. One new product to help with awareness of the program is a poster made available for the parks in either 8.5 x11 or 11 x 17 sizes, with fourteen choices for the image in the poster. New for 2020, the Park Passport will be promoted on the Junior Ranger Guide and will accordingly fund the production of the Guide.

An online version of Junior Ranger was created for the pandemic in 2020, with online activity sheets and videos. Over 10,000 youth participated in the online program in 2020.

Potential for Growth

It appears that the visitors in Idaho State Parks ages 6 to 12 and their families are eager to participate in the Junior Ranger Program. While we have had tremendous numbers of participants, it appears there is significant room for growth. Parks that stand out as examples with great potential are those in high population areas as well as more remote parks that receive significant visitation. Even parks without a dedicated Interpretive Ranger can be successful with Junior Ranger since the program can be self-guided.

Future of the Junior Ranger Program

  • Need to have Program materials available for participants to use. Park Staff and Volunteers need to either pass out materials or have materials on display and available. Many parks are doing a great job of this, while a few are just getting started in developing their local marketing and displays.
  • Providing dedicated Interpretive Rangers to lead programs designed for the Junior Rangers age range really helps the program achieve its full potential.
  • Completion of Interpretive Plans for all parks will support development of all programming, including Junior Ranger. The agency is working on interpretive plans for all parks with in-house staff, with the first Interpretive Plan completed in 2020 for City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park.

The 22 Parks participating in the Junior Ranger Program:

  • Hells Gate
  • Priest Lake
  • Farragut
  • Round Lake
  • Old Mission
  • Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes
  • Eagle Island
  • Heyburn
  • Dworshak
  • Winchester
  • Ponderosa
  • Lake Cascade
  • Land of Yankee Fork
  • Lucky Peak
  • Bruneau Dunes
  • Three Island Crossing
  • Thousand Springs
  • Lake Walcott
  • Castle Rocks
  • Harriman
  • Henrys Lake
  • Massacre Rocks
  • (City of Rocks National Reserve participates in the NPS Junior Ranger program)

As we developed this Junior Ranger Program from 2017-2021, we have had a couple of state park systems across the USA ask for assistance with Junior Ranger ideas, we are always happy to assist.

- Jamie Little, Experience/Education Supervisor Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation