Remotely building a new community of Junior Rangers

Annie Runde, Relevancy Team, IRAC, PWR Regions 8, 9, 10 & 12

Updated Foundations of Interpretation

John Day Fossil Beds (JODA) didn’t take the task of celebrating National Junior Ranger Day during the spring of 2020 lying down. They rose to the challenge of COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions by creating fun, engaging digital content for Junior Rangers of all ages to explore this remote park. In the process, they reached a new audience of JODA enthusiasts.

In the spring of 2020, educators and interpreters around the service were scrambling to meet visitor needs and provide meaningful experiences for the public to connect to parks in non-traditional ways. JODA felt this pull and worked quickly to create an online Junior Ranger program that participants could enjoy from their homes during the National Junior Ranger Day celebration in April 2020. In doing so, they realized the program also broke physical barriers to experiencing this remote park and allowed staff to explore new possibilities for reaching a wider audience than those able to visit.

Their online Junior Ranger Day celebration was a monumental success. During a normal year, the park sees less than thirty Junior Rangers during their annual celebration. Thanks to the accessibility of a virtual visit, over 300 participants earned their badge and became a John Day Junior Ranger through the program in 2020. Sandra Gladish, the JODA Chief of Interpretation at the time, was proud of their efforts to create “a place that felt safe and friendly and happy, in a time that felt a little scary and uncertain.”

The accessible online activities help participants learn about ancient life, explore the natural world around them and protect national parks. The program includes educational videos, art activities, writing and more to appeal to a wide array of learning styles and abilities. The entire experience is curated by the fun and lovable “Pongo”, a cartoon saber-tooth cat that serves as John Day’s Junior Ranger mascot.

A sketched map of the three units of John Day Fossil Beds with Pongo the cartoon mascot asking visitors to mark their location on the map.

The suite of activities developed for JODA’s 2020 Junior Ranger Day remains online for Junior Rangers of all ages to explore, learn about and help protect the ancient fossil beds and painted hills of this hidden gem. Each month over 1,000 virtual visitors form a deeper connection to the park through this program. Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns and an inability to connect in person with visitors was not easy, but creating digital opportunities for Junior Rangers was an effective way for JODA to broaden their program and appeal to a much wider, digital audience.

An image of a Junior Ranger activity in which virtual or in-person visitors draw a line from fossil bones to an incomplete skeleton of a prehistoric pongonodon cat.

If you have a great example of digital programming for youth and families you would like us to share please contact Annie_Runde@nps.gov.


Junior Ranger Program (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Relevancy Team Best Practices in 21st Century Interpretation and Competencies – NPS: Common Learning Portal


Contribute to the 2022 Checklist of Best Practices for IE&V

The Relevancy Team of Region 8, 9, 10 & 12 is compiling a checklist of best practices of virtual programming for I#&V, and we would like your input. If have an example of a virtual project that exemplifies interpretive best practices, email Lou Salas Sian at lou_sian@nps.gov.

• What 21st Century Interpretation Competencies does this program model for you?

• In what ways does this program help build JODA’s audience and community?

• What are some silver-linings your program experienced during the past year?

• Which audiences do you tend to focus on? Are there audiences you are missing?

• What are some best practices you’ve employed to engage kids and families during this challenging time?

• Which 21st Century competencies did you employ in your programming?

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