Park expands Junior Ranger program

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is inviting kids and their families to participate in a selection of summer programs that offers more than a dozen hands-on fun activities through a new and expanded Junior Ranger Program.

The program is free and engages kids ages 5 through 12 in rewarding learning experiences. Children can make their own dinner bell in a 19th century blacksmith shop, or create a piece of pottery as Cherokee Indians have done for thousands of years. Or, if discovering the natural world is more appealing, they can probe the hidden insects living on forest floor or venture into the dark to explore the creatures of the night.

These programs and many more are scheduled through Aug. 12 at specific times throughout the week. Families can pick up the new Junior Ranger Program Card and schedule of activities at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance to the park on U.S. 441 north of Cherokee.

Under this new program, a child must attend at least three ranger-led programs listed on the card and will be rewarded with a Junior Ranger badge which emulates the real Park Ranger official badge.

“This new initiative encourages involvement by local children and repeat visitors by offering a variety of specially-designed programs that are interactive and involved,” said Park Education Specialist Karen Ballentine.

Funding for the expanded Junior Ranger Program was made possible through a grant secured by the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the National Park Foundation and Unilever Company, a Proud Partner of America’s National Parks and a National Corporate Partner of the Junior Ranger Program.

By summer 2007, several new Junior Ranger activity booklets will be developed and produced as well that will be targeted to specific age groups.

“The Junior Ranger program provides a great opportunity for children and families to spend time together learning about the natural and cultural resources in their very own backyard,” said Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “We hope that our local residents will take advantage of this program to interact with our staff and the resources, and, at the same time, plan a day participating in the many recreational opportunities that the Park has to offer.”

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