This time of year, as temperatures warm, the sounds of spring return to Voyageurs National Park. The emerging leaves rustle in the breeze; loons yodel their return to the lake, and waves lap gently against the shoreline. These natural sounds are interspersed by young voices asking “What kind of tree is this?” “Where does this trail go?” and exclaiming “I found where the groundhog lives!” and “This is the same lake the voyageurs paddled on!” Spring is a peak season for field trips to the park, which provide local students a chance to explore and learn about the national park in their own backyard. Each year, nearly 1,500 individuals engage in park education programs. A classroom field trip to the park is one of the many opportunities the Voyageurs Environmental Education (E.E.) Program offers to educators and students. Most field trips target the elementary grades and include one or two ranger-led programs followed by a teacher-led hike. However, each year in May, the Falls High School 7th grade students participate in “Science Day”. These students rotate through six different stations, each covering a different topic such as water quality, fisheries management, and native tree identification. Other learning opportunities provided by the E.E. program include snowshoe programs (on-site or at the school), classroom presentations, traveling trunks (portable classrooms containing lessons and props which can be shipped anywhere in the lower 48 states), and assistance to scout groups to help scouts with their badge completion. The Kids Art Show and other National Park Week events, such as this year’s Junior Ranger Day on Saturday, April 23, are planned through the park’s E.E. program.
The E.E. program also coordinates with Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA) to offer a Teen Ambassador Program each summer. Teens from the park’s gateway communities and the Twin Cities metro area engage in an action-packed five-day camping and canoeing adventure in Voyageurs, followed by a three-day excursion to Mississippi National Riverway and Recreation Area. The program aims to provide teens that may not have access to these types of recreation, whether due to location or socioeconomics, a chance to connect with a national park. Hopefully the teen’s experience sparks a life-long connection to the national parks and stewardship for natural areas.
As the Education Specialist at Voyageurs, my favorite part of the job is working with kids and seeing the park through their eyes. I like answering their questions and hearing the enthusiasm over the discoveries they make because I learn what is interesting and exciting to them. Today, many kids are more connected to technology and screens than the natural world around them. So when a kid asks “Where does this trail go?” my response is “Let’s take a hike and find out!”.
By Lisa Maas Voyageurs National Park Education Specialist