Help your child get more out of nature every time you visit the Great Smoky Mountains. The littlest visitors to the Smokies have the opportunity to join the National Park Service as Junior Rangers! As long as your youngster is between the ages of five and 12, he or she can join the ranks and become a Junior Ranger and earn an official badge. Let’s get started!
1. Stop By A Visitor Center
Junior Ranger booklets are located at Sugarlands Visitor Center for only $2.50. In addition, you can also pick them up at the Elkmont campground or Cades Cove. Each park location across the United States designs its own booklet, so you and your child can enjoy a unique experience from one park to the next. Since the Great Smoky Mountains is the most-visited park in the country, there are three booklets available for different age groups.
These booklets contain various activities children need to accomplish in order to become a Junior Ranger. Typically, this means completing eight out of 11 activities, picking up a bag of trash, and attending a ranger-led program or some other activity when ranger programs are off-season. The first couple of activities cover park regulations, including rules against feeding the wildlife and encouraging visitors to leave everything as they’ve found it. Other activities include hunting for various leaves and describing the smell in the air.
The activity booklet is designed to appeal to children in their respective age groups, which alone can get kids excited about working toward their Junior Ranger badge.
2. Sign Them Up For A Special Program
The Great Smoky Mountains offers seasonal ranger-led programs throughout the park. These programs allow kids to speak with a real-life ranger, ask questions, interact with nature, and make new friends. Check with the visitor centers for more information on dates and times, and be sure to sign up early.
Older kids and adults can also get involved in the Not-So-Junior Ranger program. If you want to encourage your youngsters to complete the activities, pick up a Not-So-Junior Ranger card yourself at one of the visitor centers and model the activities. You can even attend some of the ranger-led programs yourself to obtain your own official badge! When you get the entire family involved, the kids are more likely to jump on board and complete their own activities.
3. Meet With A Park Ranger
Even before working on the Junior Ranger activities, your kids can speak with an on-site ranger at any of the park visitor centers. For little ones that need that extra bit of encouragement, a conversation with a park ranger can make all the difference.
Every park ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains is experienced in working with kids, so they’re always more than happy to help. In fact, once you complete your Junior Ranger activities, you’ll need to meet with a ranger anyway, who may just make a big deal about your child’s accomplishments for all the nearby visitors to hear. Naturally, this can boost your child’s confidence and make them feel proud of their accomplishments.
After finishing the Junior Ranger activities and qualifying for the badge, the park ranger will have your child raise her right hand and read the Junior Ranger promise, which states:
“As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect the plants and animals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and keep the air, water, and land clean. I will continue to learn more about the park so I can help protect it for all the years to come.”
Becoming a Junior Ranger is a rite of passage children will never forget. Make the most of the Great Smoky Mountains Park services by reaching out today.