By Leif Palmer
Posted on April 21, 2021
If you have a kid who's expressed an interest in becoming a park ranger, we have a suggestion for one way they can take that first step toward achieving that dream: Become a Junior Ranger. This program, offered by the National Park Service, is a great way for kids to get more out of their national park experience and learn a lot about nature in the process.
It's pretty easy to get started. Just stop by any national park visitor center and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet. Here in the Great Smoky Mountains, that means stopping by the Sugarlands Visitor Center or Elkmont Campground or the Cades Cove Visitor Center and getting a booklet for only $2.50. Three different booklets are available for different age groups.
To become a Junior Ranger, your child has to complete eight of 11 different activities, including learning park regulations, hunting for different types of leaves and describing smells in the air.
After that, ranger candidates are required to pick up a bag of trash and attend a ranger-led program in the national park. These programs are offered on a seasonal basis and allow kids to interact with real-life park rangers, ask questions, explore nature and more. When they're being offered, the NPS website posts a full schedule of available programs on both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the Smokies.
Once your activities are complete, your child can meet with a park ranger, who will swear them in and ask them to make the Junior Ranger promise: “As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect the plants and animals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and keep the air, water, and land clean. I will continue to learn more about the park so I can help protect it for all the years to come.”
If you're an older child or a parent, don't feel left out. You can become a Not-So-Junior Ranger. This program encourages older siblings and parents to pick up a card at a visitor center and participate along with the younger kids and to offer assistance when needed. Those ranger-led programs are usually great for all ages anyway. When the rest of the family is involved, kids are more motivated to complete the program.
Next time you're in Gatlinburg, you can park in one of our convenient lots and take a trolley to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Our Gatlinburg parking garage hours will make it convenient for you to see all the sights of Gatlinburg and work in your trip to the visitor center as well.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in Gatlinburg. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.