Junior Ranger programs take shape

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“The state parks’ Junior Ranger program has been in existence for many years,” said Keith Bailey, curator for the Etowah Indian Mounds. “The intent of the program is to get kids interested in conserving and preserving the natural environment and learning to respect our cultural heritage, in hopes that youngsters age 6 [to] 12 will be interested in growing up to be park rangers one day.

“I’m not sure how long Etowah has been hosting Junior Ranger camps, but I started helping with camps, at Etowah, as a volunteer, around 2010, and have continued to run the camp since joining the park as an employee. I enjoy teaching kids games and doing activities as they learn about the site’s history and nature. A lot of the programs we do help them to enjoy the outdoors, or at least teaches them to appreciate it.”

Now conducted on Saturdays, Etowah’s Junior Ranger Summer Activity Days will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 13, 20 and 27, June 10 and 24, and July 15 and 22.

“In the past, Etowah has had the camps solely during the week, for just a few hours each day, and anyone not in town that week was left out,” Bailey said. “In the last few years, we have seen smaller attendance, as we have to compete with lots of other summer activities, so we decided to alter the way we are doing things, and we are now offering whole day activity days throughout the summer on Saturdays. This allows kids to enjoy vacations, sports or other day camps during the week and the mounds on the weekend.

“For $30, kids age 6 [to] 12, can spend six hours hiking, watching wildlife, doing crafts, playing games, learning about nature and the history of Etowah. Some of the more unique activities that we will be doing are making blowdarts and/or archery for beginners. Of course, outside activities will depend on the weather, so we have lots of alternative activities in case foul weather causes us to make last minute adjustments to the schedules. One parent or guardian is encouraged to sit in — free — with each paid youth, and for lunch bring a picnic lunch.”

Located at 813 Indian Mounds Road S.W. in Cartersville, the 54-acre venue is where several thousand American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, the Etowah Indian Mounds features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and defensive ditch.

“We ask that anyone wanting to participate sign-up at least one week in advance,” Bailey said. “You pay when you register. This keeps us from over spending on programming materials, and gives us enough time to purchase what is needed for the programs. Just pick a week, and call the museum at 770-387-3747 to see if space is still available. At present, all weeks still have some space available, but we do have to limit space due to museum capacity, and program quality.”

At Red Top, the Junior Ranger program has been presented for more than a decade.

“Junior Ranger camp is one of my favorite programs we offer at Red Top Mountain,” said Hannah Warner, interpretive ranger for Red Top, 50 Lodge Road S.E. in Acworth. “It is a great way for kids to connect with nature, explore the park and learn fun new things. We go on hiking and boating adventures; we make crafts; we find critters — there is really never a dull moment.

“This will be my third year coordinating the camps, but they have been a summer staple at Red Top for at least 11 years. Every year, I see new and familiar faces. We try to develop activities that are fun for every camper — whether they have been to every Junior Ranger camp or this is their first camp. Our goal in planning the camps is to introduce campers to Red Top’s many natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources.”

Red Top’s camps for youth 7 to 9 will take place June 13 to 16 and July 18 to 21. Programs geared toward ages 10 to 12 will be conducted June 20 to 23 and July 25 to 28. Ongoing daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., each camp will cost $75 per child through Monday and $100 per child afterward. There also will be a $5 parking charge.

“One of the campers’ favorite activities is our pontoon adventure day,” Warner said. “We rent pontoons from Park Marina, right down the road from Red Top, and go for a ride to different places. We’ve done trips to the Iron Hill iron mines, the Army Corps of Engineers Dam Office, Goose Island, Allatoona Pass and more. We go on daily themed hikes, where we look for signs of wildlife and animal homes. We will do creek walks with nets and magnifying glasses, where we explore a small stream that is home to a huge variety of animals — from frogs, to crawfish, to dragonfly larvae.

“This camp is one of the best parts of my job. I am able to think, ‘OK, if I were a 10-year-old again, what would I want to do?’ and then I actually get to go do it. The connection made with campers is also an incredibly rewarding part of the camp. It is the only program where participants will return several days in a row, so I am able to get to know each individual camper, as well as their families. Junior Ranger campers almost always return to the park after the camp is over, and it is so gratifying to see them out at the park. I often run into past Junior Rangers at other programs, in the campground, at Halloween Hayrides or out on the trail.”

For more information about Red Top’s Junior Ranger camps, email Warner at hannah.warner@dnr.ga.gov, visit http://gastateparks.org/RedTopMountain or call 770-975-0055.