Volunteering in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In honor of World Ranger Day, I want to share my experience with the dedicated men and women who serve in and protect our National Parks. This summer, I got to spend eight weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) volunteering with the Junior Ranger program. I learned about interpreting our amazing natural resource for children of all ages.

 Here I am with the three Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger books, in my volunteer uniform!  Photo by Melissa Jasper

Here I am with the three Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger books, in my volunteer uniform! Photo by Melissa Jasper

I feel fortunate to live an hour away from RMNP, the fourth most-visited National Park in the country. It was established in 1915, one year before the actual National Park Service was formed. RMNP is as beautiful as it is unique, boasting four different ecosystems and spanning the continental divide. The highest elevation that visitors can reach is over 12,000 feet high!

Being a teacher, I was most excited to see how children can best learn about wilderness, wildlife, and conservation efforts in our country. I want to incorporate more of this in my classroom. One of the best ways to do this at any National Park is to seek out the Junior Ranger program. At RMNP, the program is headquartered at Hidden Valley in what used to be an old ski lodge.

To become a Junior Ranger, children complete free activity booklets that teach them about the park and help them maximize their visit in an age-appropriate way. There are usually several books available for various age groups with maps, beautiful full-color illustrations, checklists, and more.

 You can still see the old ski runs at Hidden Valley, which closed its lodge in 1991.  Photo by Alison Travis

You can still see the old ski runs at Hidden Valley, which closed its lodge in 1991. Photo by Alison Travis

 Ranger Dave used lots of hands-on aids in his program about ungulates.  Photo by Alison Travis

Ranger Dave used lots of hands-on aids in his program about ungulates. Photo by Alison Travis

 If you are patient and know where to look, you may spot some animals!  Photo by Ben Travis

If you are patient and know where to look, you may spot some animals! Photo by Ben Travis

Before earning their badges, Junior Rangers also attend a ranger-led program. I assisted with informative, interactive sessions about Hoofed Animals, "Flower Friend" Pollinators, and Wilderness Survival Tactics. I learned so much from the rangers and volunteers, not only about the park itself, but about interacting with our visitors from all over the world! I met lots of enthusiastic kids, some of whom had earned multiple badges from other National Parks already. They shared new facts with me and told stories of wildlife they had spied that I have yet to catch in the park myself (those elusive moose...)!

My goals for volunteering this summer were personal and professional. I wanted to learn about and explore my home park, and contribute to the National Park Service. At the same time, I am walking away brimming with lesson ideas to enhance environmental education in my classroom, and ways to bring my learners outside more. The Junior Ranger Oath, "Explore, Learn, Protect!" is a wonderful summary of the big themes I want all of my students to take away each year. 

 I helped guests find the perfect spot for their family to eat, hike, or explore - like Lily Lake.  Photo by Alison Travis

I helped guests find the perfect spot for their family to eat, hike, or explore - like Lily Lake. Photo by Alison Travis

The Junior Ranger Pledge, said aloud by kids when sworn in, varies by age and park. But, its core message remains the same and serves as a reminder for us all. Besides, there is no upper age limit in the Junior Ranger program!

"As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect Rocky Mountain National Park, my neighborhood parks and all other natural areas by being a responsible steward of the environment. I will help keep wildlife wild by not feeding animals. I will help protect plants by not picking them. I will help keep parks beautiful by placing trash in recycling bins or trash cans. I will enjoy nature safely and be a good example to others."

For more information, check out the Junior Ranger program or be a WebRanger!