Roan Mountain State Park hosts Junior Ranger Camp
Where do you go when you start out being the best?
Up the mountain.
Roan Mountain State Park’s first Junior Ranger Camp – in 2009 – was named the Best Interpretive Program in the state, a start the park has continued to build on.
Of course, now-Park Manager Jacob Young has a little more colorful description of the following years: “It took off like wildfire from that.”
This week closed out another successful Junior Ranger Camp, a program that continues to remain popular among youngsters.
“We only take 30-35 kids and it books up within a few days,” Young said.
The day camp is offered every year in July for children ages 8 to 12 years and is an award-winning program with the Tennessee State Park system.
The first year the program was offered it won an award for Best Interpretive Program in the state, Young said.
After that first year, the Roan Mountain State Park staff worked with other state parks to help them create their own versions of the program.
“Now, most of your state parks are offering Junior Ranger Camp,” Young said.
This year the junior rangers got a special treat — two days of the camp focused on survival skills and were built around the theme of the popular “Hunger Games” books by author Suzanne Collins. In the books, heroine Katniss Everdeen finds herself fighting for her life in a televised survival game in a post-apocalyptic world and must use her skills and wits to survive.
Roan Mountain’s junior rangers didn’t face any life-threatening situations, but they did get the opportunity to learn skills that could one day save their lives.
On Wednesday, the group learned a variety of survival skills including archery, shelter building and fire starting. The junior rangers also learned about an assortment of edible and medicinal plants, as well as how to identify plants that can be harmful to them.
To help the campers with the archery skills, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officers Dennis Ward and John Ripley provided a demonstration on archery and archery safety. Ward said the TWRA does a few archery presentations throughout the course of the year as a way to introduce children to archery.
Campers learned fire-building skills from Young and Ranger Mark Taylor, who traveled from Edgar Evins State Park in Silver Point to assist with the camp. The junior rangers learned a variety of methods for starting fires, such as using flint and steel, and also learned about how to safely use fire while enjoying the outdoors.
Ranger Meg Guy led the campers on an informational hike where they observed several useful — and some not-so-useful — plants are found in nature. She said the hike discussed many of the plants common to this area that can be used for food or as medicine to treat illness or injury. The campers were also shown some of the poisonous plants they could encounter in the wild.
The junior rangers also learned about building shelters in the wild to help stay safe from inclement weather from Ranger Josh Howard and Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Joe Nowotarski.
But campers didn’t just watch demonstrations. On Thursday, the children took part in an obstacle course designed to test their knowledge.
“They have four different challenge stations where they have to show the skills they learned,” said Guy. “They can’t proceed to the next station until they complete the challenge.”
Many of the campers said they enjoyed the survival skills portion of Junior Ranger Camp.
Hailey King, 9, said the survival skills had been her favorite part of the week. “We got to build shelters and build fire,” she said. Her brother, 8-year-old Hunter King agreed, saying his favorite part was “making fire.”
This was the first year attending Junior Ranger Camp for 9-year-old James Holland, who said he would like to come back. He described the shelter building activity as his favorite but his brother, 12-year-old Clayton Holland, couldn’t pick a favorite. “I enjoyed all of it,” Clayton Holland said.
The camp concluded on Friday with a special picnic for the campers and their families to celebrate the accomplishments made by the junior rangers during the week.