ORLANDO, Fla. -- 72 military children got to be sworn in as Junior Rangers for the National Park Service during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration event in Orlando, August 12.
The program is for children to get them out and explore as many of the 397 national parks throughout the U.S. "It's an educational visit for them," said Park Ranger Carl Bertoch, "plus it's a learning adventure." Working out of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Bertoch had a table at the recent YRRP event to bring awareness to the National Park Service and the Junior Ranger Program.
"As Park Rangers, we try to get the children involved because they're the next generation of protectors of these sacred places that we want to keep," he said. The program helps each child learn about the park they are visiting and each park's program is centered on the individuality of that particular park.
For the children and their parents attending the YRRP, the added incentive was a free year pass to go to any national park nationwide, which includes Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each park has a Junior Ranger Program.
When children are involved in the parks, the parents get involved as well. "We make them love and learn about the environment," said Park Ranger Avia Woulard, who works at Canaveral National Seashore. "When the children want to go, the parents are the ones who take them there."
As each group or family visits and get the parks' experiences they share them with others and more people come to visit the parks. As each park is visited, the Junior Ranger contacts the Ranger who handles the program for that park and they get to swear in as a Junior Ranger at each park and get a badge similar to the adult Park Ranger badge with a design specific to that park emblazoned on it as well as a park patch. This is all after the visitor completes the activities found in each park's Junior Ranger book.
Bertoch had asked the children if they knew who owned the parks. They were surprised when he told them, "You do!"
"We want the kids," said Bertoch. "These are our next park rangers and we're raising them up. If we can't get the next generation involved in it, then who's going to be here to protect our parks?"
Bertoch says that he has received emails from parents thanking him for getting their children involved in the program, especially after they have visited other parks.
Getting the Park Service to the event came about after the YRRP Branch Chief, Jeff Vaughn, read an article on the year pass being offered to military personnel. "The Service members are fighting for many things," Vaughan said. "To include the right to have and visit the National Parks, so it was important because it got the park passes in the Soldier hands."
Bertoch echoed Vaughan's remarks saying, "The idea of coming here to the Yellow Ribbon was to get the Soldiers and their families notified of this program, to get the Soldiers and families out to the parks by getting them their passes so they can all go out there and explore." The military pass program was instituted on May 19 of this year.
During the two-day event, they reached 807 Soldiers and family members and Bertoch said that about 10-15% of the people he spoke to, had no idea about the National Parks.