American Latino Heritage Road Trip- Days 3 & 4- Shenandoah National Park

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Exploring Junior Ranger programs – Get your ‘familia’ there! 

Days 3 & 4 of our American Latino Heritage Road Trip wasn’t focused specifically on sites that had Latino influence but more on how Latinos and multicultural families can and should plan to experience and enjoy our national parks.  When you consider that among the top 10 counties on a national basis (according to Pew Center Research) that had the highest increases of Latino residents over the last 10 years are actually within short driving distance to my featured park- Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park– you can start seeing the motivation behind this post.

I can tell you that my girls are so open to new experiences following our travel to the Parks. We are on our third year of National Park touring and now they ASK to go on hikes? Que paso?? They look for Ranger talks and ask questions like never before. They take their own photos and they climb rocks with less fear than ever. They still HATE the bugs and the bees (and scream at times!) but its improving.

Why should families be exploring the National Parks? Because our youth depends on it!  Some thoughts:

  • The key message of the parks is conservation and protection. Much like the messages surrounding Earth Day- we need to create the next generation of adults interested in nature’s beauty and willing to protect it.
  • As John Muir – considered the “Father of the National Parks” wrote throughout many essays, books and letters to Congress it’s important that all Americans gravitate toward and seek nature, allow it to impact your spirit, and protect it.
  • Our family’s top priority during these trips- BONDING. The Parks allow our family to connect and share splendid views that are just good for the soul.
    • You learn to do simple things together- take a hike or enjoy a picnic- without technology or other distractions
    • When you explore together your children you start broadening their views. My kids looked at a map to see where we can explore next year- that’s great!

Here are some great map resources to think about potential itineraries or places to visit:

The Junior Ranger Program- Que?

There are three age levels for most Junior Ranger programs at the Parks that make it easy to keep your children interested during your trip:

  • Preschool- 7
  • Tweens- 8-12 year olds
  • Teens- 13+

But according to one ranger, the broadest and most influential group are the tweens, “they’re just the right age to understand and really start practicing the messages.”

The program is specific to each park you visit so kids have to complete a series of questions and activities to earn that park’s patch or badge. Activities include:

  • Mandatory attendance of at least one Ranger-led program including a hike, special local animal talk, visitor center, nighttime camp fire, etc.
  • Mandatory completion of the Junior Ranger booklet. Our girls earned a record 3 badges during this trip – which included Antietam National Battlefield, Gettysburg National Military Park and Shenandoah.
  • Interview and review of all work by a Park ranger to ensure they (the kids not parents!) completed all the work themselves

Participating in the program ensures that kids are learning while at the park. It allows us to help them achieve their goal. The cost is minimal- usually included with your park entrance fee or a separate fee of $3-5 per child. The kids actually earn a certificate and a badge or patch specific to the park- it’s a nice reminder of your time together.

En fin– take the time to find the state and national parks that are nearby. Take the kids to a wonderful learning experience you can share as a family and they’ll learn to appreciate your time together and learn along the way.

Saludos! Cristy

My travel was partially sponsored by the presenters of the American Latino Heritage Road Trip: the American Latino Heritage Fund of the National Park Service, General Motors and Verizon Wireless. All views and all content rights are my own.


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