On a recent rainy Sunday morning outside the Ash River Visitor Center at Voyageurs National Park, over twenty Minnesota high school students held up their right hands to recite the Junior Ranger pledge and receive their badges:
I promise to learn all I can about Voyageurs National Park and what makes this a special place. I will help protect the plants, animals, land, and water in Voyageurs National Park, and I will share what I learn with my friends and family.
They had just returned from a five-day paddling and camping trip in the park. Some were a little damp from the morning’s rainy paddle, but smiling nonetheless. Throughout their visit to the park, the students had participated in some classic camping experiences: they roasted marshmallows, swatted away mosquitoes, slept in tents, and told scary stories around a campfire. But this was more than your average camping trip.
Since 2012, Voyageurs National Park Association’s Teen Ambassador Program has sought to connect youth from all over Minnesota to the outdoors and environmental stewardship and careers. This year, Teen Ambassadors from 14 different high schools ranging from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais to Virginia came together for the trip of a lifetime.
The Teen Ambassadors learned about the many facets of a national park’s operation. They talked to park scientists about current research projects, were the first members of the public to see some recently captured footage of wolf pups in their den, learned to operate water sampling equipment, and got to ask questions of park law enforcement rangers who stopped by their campsite for a visit. They explored Kabetogama Lake by canoe, and caught a ride on the park’s tour boat to search out eagle nests and visit the Ellsworth Rock Garden. Each day, they spent time just enjoying being outside and reflected on their experiences with the help of their trip guides.
While a few of the Teen Ambassadors had previous experience visiting national parks, paddling and camping, for many, this experience was a first. But Teen Ambassador Zubeda, from Minneapolis, knows it won’t be her last:
“One thing I’ll tell my family is how much I’ve learned from this trip, and what I’ve been missing out [on]. Definitely going to go on more camping [trips].”
Later this summer, the Teen Ambassadors will reunite for a day of paddling on the Mississippi, seeing their new friends again, and participating in a Civic Voice workshop to learn how they can help protect the environment through public advocacy.
Thank you to our program partners including Wilderness Inquiry, the National Park Service, AmeriCorps VISTA, and the National Parks Conservation Association. Special thanks to Nature Valley for their lead support of the 2019 National Park Teen Ambassador program!
Thank you for sharing Voyageurs National Park with this wonderful group of kids! Our members make this program free for Ambassadors.