Getting kids outside may be a bit difficult nowadays surrounded by world a of distractions, video games and technology.
However, the recently developed Sonoma County Regional Parks Junior Ranger Program is getting kids basic outdoor safety skills as well as a chance to explore the parks, beaches and winding trails that make up the county's diverse, natural backyard.
“Junior ranger programs are common across the nation,” said Sonoma County Regional Parks Park Ranger II and co-creator of the county program, Ilana Stoelting. “The National Park and the State Park have a really well established program. I developed the junior ranger booklets — kids would get a booklet and it would have different games and activities — but I wanted to do something a little more active.”
Stoelting said she received a request for an activity-based Junior Ranger program from a local Girl Scout troop and after wanting to create a program that had more outdoor activity than a booklet she thought, “Why not just make one,” and with that, the county’s program was born.
The program, still in its infancy, as Stoelting described it, started last August. The program is open to kids ages 7 to 13.
To become an official Junior Ranger, participants must get a series of required classes stamped off in a booklet. After they complete their six-part class they get a pin and a certificate of completion.
“There are six parts; they have to do two natural exploration classes, two skills classes and two community services sessions, then they get their pin,” Stoelting explained.
Each month there is a different program that caters to one of the six required sections and each is led by a different ranger at a different Sonoma County Regional Park.
Ranger Darren Davis led an outdoor skills, gadgets, gizmos and tricks class at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park in Windsor.
In the afternoon, March 30 class, kids learned how to make a portable “buddy burner” and how to perfect a “gourmet” s’more using Grasshopper cookies.
And while the Junior Ranger participants aren’t learning how to skin an animal and sleep inside it Bear Grylls style, or how to cross a 50-foot chasm with a single rope, they are learning basic outdoor and safety skills that may come in handy later in life.
Park Ranger I with the Russian River Division, Ryan Conradi, is leading a “Hiking Survival Skills 101” class at Steelhead Beach Regional Park on April 28 and will teach basic first aid skills.
“The two-hour class will start with thinking about where you are going and how to plan your outing and what items you should bring that could be used over again. We’ll also go over safety issues that could arise, such as a cut or sprained ankle,” he said.
Conradi, a seasoned hiker and white water rafting enthusiast, said at the last session he had kids find sticks to learn how to create a makeshift leg splint. He also showed them how a simple bandana could be used as an arm sling and how you can recognize and treat poison oak.
“It’s super important just to have general knowledge and to be able to be aware of your surroundings and to learn basic first aid,” Conradi said. “If they only pick up a few things maybe it would grab their interest later in life and further their love for nature.”
Stoelting echoed Conradi’s thoughts, adding that it’s good to get children familiarized with local parks.
“We want to encourage kids to be connected to the environment and to be able to experience the parks safely,” Stoelting said.
According to Stoelting, so far the program has been well received.
She said kids like the interaction of learning new skills from the rangers, “The one-on-one interaction with the ranger has been well received … They light up when they learn something new.”
For more information about the Sonoma County Regional Parks Junior Ranger Program and how to get tickets and sign up, visit: https://bit.ly/2JXcFnL.