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Colorado National Monument was recognized with an award of excellence from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education for its Junior Ranger Explorer Day Camp. This recognition was awarded in the citizen/community outreach category. The monument was honored for its leadership in developing effective, cooperative, and cross-sector environmental education programs with the establishment of its Junior Ranger Explorer Day Camp.
The monument’s chief of interpretation and education Michelle Wheatley envisioned the camp and then sought grant funding to make it a reality. Michelle and two of the monument’s seasonal interpretive rangers Annie Williams and Briana Board, who operated the camp, received the award at the annual Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education’s awards banquet on March 12th in Denver, Colorado.
Colorado National Monument launched the Junior Ranger Explorer Day Camp in 2008 to engage local youth ages 9 to 12 years old from Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado, with place-based learning and hands-on activities promoting environmental awareness, conservation, and stewardship.
The camp engages youth in the natural world in their own community’s backyard. Although the park borders the communities of Grand Junction and Fruita, many of the participants have never been inside its gates. The park partners with Mesa County Valley School District 51 and the City of Grand Junction's Parks and Recreation Department. Both partners offer summer youth programs. The outdoor nature field experience component of the Junior Ranger Day Camp offers a summer program extension and a once in a lifetime opportunity for participating youth. Program participants come from five different school sites throughout the Grand Valley and are bused to the park one day a week for eight weeks during June and July.
Each week features a new theme, including raptors, desert wildlife, water ecology, geology, botany, pinyon/juniper forest ecology, amphibians and reptiles, and insects, and is facilitated by Williams and Board. Day camp participants hike, join in educational games and hands-on science activities, and explore geologic wonders. Participants establish an understanding of the park’s natural and cultural stories. Many camp participants express their awe at the beauty just miles from their homes and realize they do not have to travel far to hike or experience firsthand encounters with desert wildlife. In coming to an understanding of nature in their own backyard, participants connect the importance of preserving national parks with caring for nature on a local level. The camp concludes with an award ceremony in which all the camp participants receive a commemorative patch, certificate, and a memory book as a keepsake.
More than 640 youth living in the Grand Valley have benefited from camp programs. Funding for this innovative program is made possible by the National Park Service's Youth Partnership Program, Colorado National Monument Association, and Mountains-to-Deserts Young Stewards in the Outdoors Grant.