By AnnMarie HarvieMay 2, 2018
When the warm weather finally reaches New England, children in the region will have a unique opportunity to get a feel for what being a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger is like.
Several New England District recreation sites will host free junior ranger programs for children 6-12 in the spring/summer of 2018. Each program is as unique as the project hosting it.
According to the Corps' junior ranger program Guidelines, "the objective of this program is to develop in the young people who visit Corps of Engineers lakes an awareness of the environment and the role the Corps plays in managing this environment at the lakes, and to solicit their assistance in helping Corps rangers in serving the public and protecting our lands and natural resources."
The Corps of Engineers runs the junior ranger program nationally. Other agencies, such as the National Park Service, have similar programs.
Rick Magee, retired Park Ranger, with the assistance of Joan "JoJo" Cyr, Robert Hanacek and Tom Wisnaukas, created a program for the Corps in New England in 1985 called the junior Project Manager Program at the Thames River Basin.
"The goal of the junior project manager program was to help school children from grades 4 to 6 understand the Flood Risk Management mission of the Corps in New England," said Magee.
Although the junior ranger program execution has evolved over the years, the overall messages of environmental stewardship and the mission of a Corps of Engineers Park Ranger have stayed the same.
Up until 2018, the junior ranger program at the Cape Cod Canal ran for five days over the summer. First year junior rangers would learn about what Park Rangers do, environmental stewardship, water safety, ocean exploration and the history of the Cape Cod Canal.
Second year junior rangers would learn about soil, water, whales, pollinators, orienteering (until 2016) and engineering bridges.
This year, the Canal is offering a junior ranger booklet youngsters can either download from the Canal website or pick up at the Visitor's Center. Children can earn a junior ranger patch by completing a certain number of activities in the booklet, participate in a Visitor's Center scavenger hunt and attend one or two ranger-led programs depending on the child's age.
"By creating a booklet, we will be able to reach a much larger demographic, especially tourists who come in all the time looking for Junior ranger opportunities for their littles," said Program Coordinator Elisa Carey.
West Hill Dam's Viola Bramel has been running its program since 1991. "We hold two sessions in late July for five days each Monday through Friday and candidates must complete all five sessions to graduate," she said. "We have Level 1, Level 2 and advanced ranger programs."
At West Hill Dam, Level 1 junior rangers study subjects that include: Duties of a Corps Ranger; Natural Resource Management; Flood Reduction/Water Quality Resources, Forest Resources and Water Safety. "We have the kids do projects throughout the week," said Bramel. "For example we'll have them rate the river quality base and learn how to know if other bodies of water are safe for them for swimming or wading by collecting invertebrates such as cray fish and then releasing them. Keying out the quantity, they can tell the pollution status of a river or pond. They also do a water safety rescue demonstration."
Level 2 junior rangers at West Hill Dam have two choices to earn their badge, according to Bramel. The students can either assist with teaching the Level 1 Rangers for the entire session or they can attend five programs out of all the West Hill Dam Interpretive Programs offered during the summer. The children must attend programs that teach natural resources, forestry, fish and wildlife, park and recreation and cultural resources. "New for 2018, we have given Level 2 points for attendance at local fairs and Corps community exhibits," said Bramel.
Both of the junior ranger Levels at West Hill Dam take up to 35 children for each program. According to Bramel, the slots fill up quickly. The advanced junior rangers receive a workbook filled with science experiments and other activities that students must complete before they can earn their final junior ranger special patch and pin. According to Bramel, many advanced junior rangers go right into the corps volunteer program, which starts at age 14.
"They keep busy volunteering with groups such as scouts for National Public Lands Day, community service, etc.," she said.
Buffumville Lake ran the junior ranger program created by Magee and his team until Project Manager Dave Stiddem arrived with his program from Nashville District.
The last junior ranger program took place at the project in 2009 due to dwindling participation.
"We began sign ups for 2010, but we canceled because only two students signed up," said Park Ranger Jamie Kordack.
Park Ranger Nicole Giles, who helped with past junior ranger programs throughout the District, will revive the program this summer. "We offer many different programs at Buffumville and Hodges and I thought the kids should get credit for attending," she said. "It also gives them incentive to come explore and learn about the park and what we do."
Giles has created a junior ranger passport for kids to keep track of the programs they attend with a few extra activities inside.
"The program is very flexible," she said. "We are offering many programs and subjects ranging from Dam tours to pollinators to full moon and nature walks."
Giles said that parents are already taking passports for their children and the Buffumville and Hodges Facebook post promoting the program has had nearly 1,000 views and over a dozen shares.
The positive impacts the New England District junior ranger programs can be counted by the number of adult, former junior rangers who have returned to the annual clean up events such as Earth Day and National Public Lands Day.
Former junior rangers also come back to the projects to volunteer their time to help nurture the next generation of junior rangers.
"At West Hill Dam, we have 47 completed Eagle Scout projects that benefit our public lands," said Bramel. "All of those Eagle Scouts were junior rangers."
Many of those former junior rangers are returning to the projects and signing up their children to be future environmental stewards.
"We have had graduates who went on to become local fire fighters and policemen," said Bramel. "Now they are signing up their children. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to see the cycle continue."