We never know which lives we influence, or when or why
These wise words from author Stephen King flashed through my head as I read over a letter mailed to my friend and colleague, Ranger Michael. The letter was written by a junior ranger, and included a set of pictures the family wanted to share. There were several images of Ranger Michael and the junior ranger together at the Alpine Rendezvous drop-in program at Logan Pass, as well as on the Avalanche Lake Trail. It is rare to spend time with the same ranger at different intervals during a trip, as we are constantly moving between the ranger-led programs we offer each day. However, this family lucked out, and spent much of their vacation with the same ranger by their side. It was clear from the letter that our junior ranger was influenced by the time he shared with Michael. According to his mom, he roamed the trails on their adventures, proudly wearing his junior ranger badge and reminding family members to follow park rules. In fact, he even fell asleep wearing his badge.
Letters from kids always serve to make our days brighter here in Glacier National Park, because they remind us that our job is much more than our day to day tasks. Like a pebble being dropped into Lake McDonald, the impact of our work spreads out farther than we know. It never ceases to amaze me when kids I’ve never met see my flat hat and come running up to me, with eager shouts of “A ranger!” They share stories of the day’s adventures, animal sightings, and questions they have been thinking about. Although our interactions are often short, many of the rangers here know firsthand of the importance of such conversations. For without the junior ranger programs found across our nation, many of us may not have grown up to be rangers. A common theme that comes up in response to the question, “What made you want to be a ranger?” is that all of us had positive interactions in state or national parks, or had a memory of a ranger who talked to us about their job. For me, the seed was planted while exploring the redwood forests of Big Basin State Park in my home state of California. I would tag along with a ranger on hikes, peering up at the towering trees in awe and flipping over logs to look for salamanders. Other rangers I work with remember completing a Jr. Ranger booklet and wearing their badge with pride, never dreaming that one day they would wear the real thing. Even if the many children we swear-in as junior rangers don’t all grow up to work as a ranger, I’m confident that their time spent outdoors will have long lasting, positive impacts.
How do you get yourself or a child you know involved in the junior ranger program at Glacier National Park? Stop by a visitor center and get a junior ranger book! We are more than happy to start the young and the young at heart on their junior ranger journeys. Here in Glacier we ask that you complete a short workbook all about the different features of the park. You can complete a crossword puzzle, match animals with their proper habitat, or connect the dots to help you learn about our disappearing glaciers. Not only is the book fun, but you learn new facts about the park you are visiting. In addition to completing the workbook, we ask you do the most important step: come spend time with us. Attend a free ranger-led program, stop by a ranger station, or even ask us a question when you see us out on the trail. No matter how busy we are, we are glad to stop and chat with junior rangers. After all, we know those influential conversations and time spent outdoors helped us become rangers. How far will the park Junior Ranger Program take you?