I have spent the past nine years enjoying our great nation’s National Parks; journeying across the lower forty-eight, then extending my scope to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Supplementing my family’s travels has been the Junior Ranger Program. At six years old, I completed my first program at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. I have visited over 350 park sites and participated in their programs. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about my country’s natural, cultural, and historical significance.
I couldn’t help but spread the word about our National Parks to my friends, family and teachers. I also began to notice the connection between the Parks and the material I was learning in school back home in Rome, Georgia. When we talked about Mesa Verde in history, I raved to my teacher about visiting Balcony House, walking on the same ground Ancient Pueblo People had tread on thousands of years before me. Later, when we covered the story of the Revolutionary War, I told my classmates about my vacation following the East coast. There, I had seen sights such as the Liberty Bell, famous battlegrounds, and the worn cobblestone streets of Boston where so much of our nation’s story unfolded. In science class, I volunteered my insight of complex ecosystems that I had seen in the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Yellowstone. When I read poems written by Henry W. Longfellow and Edgar Allen Poe in English class, I appreciated my visits to these National Historic Sites even more.
Visiting these significant places and participating in their Junior Ranger Programs, my family and I have learned much and have gained a greater appreciation of our country and those who live in and founded it. I also understood these sites connection to each and every one of our lives, and why they should be protected and preserved for future generations to appreciate too.
After seeing how beneficial these programs were to me not only in my education, but fostering my love of the environment and history, I wanted to reach out to the public to show them what awaited them in the parks.
I had the opportunity to travel back to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, the site of my first Junior Ranger Program and participate in the “No Child Left Inside Weekend”, where I swore in several new Junior Rangers. In addition, I had the privilege to introduce the author of “Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv. However, my journey to Colorado would not be complete without acknowledging the volunteer that had sparked my interest for the parks by asking the question; ”Would you like to do a Junior Ranger Program?” Sally McCracken, it was a surprise to Mrs. McCracken that she was the first volunteer that had introduced me to the Junior Ranger Program, thus putting my feet upon the path of the National Park experience. To her and the many other rangers and volunteers in our National Parks, I will always be grateful.
I believe that the National Parks and the enthusiastic people that work in them have given me a greater appreciation for my country. One day when I have children of my own, I plan to take them to the parks so that they too can gain a greater love for the land and its rich history. The great filmmaker, Ken Burns, got it right “ The National Parks Americas Best idea.”
Junior Ranger Chandler Johnson