Digital Junior Rangers: Student project brings historic trails to life online

by Hannah Schaefer Tibbett and Ashley O’Hara, Digital Junior Ranger team in partnership with NPS

Do you love junior ranger programs? So do we! We are the Digital Junior Ranger team—a mixture of graduate, undergraduate, and high school students from Gunnison, CO. We’re guided by Dr. Melanie Armstrong, Professor and Public Lands Coordinator in the Environmental Management graduate program at Western Colorado University. 

Photo Credit: Digital Junior Ranger Team
The Digital Junior Ranger team visits the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City, OR in November 2019. Channeling their inner stoic pioneer are Dr. Melanie Armstrong, Jennifer Fenwick, Madeline Foster, Ashley O’Hara, Corrine Truesdell, and Amanda Botsford. Not pictured, but also part of the team, are Hannah Schaefer Tibbett, John Kraft, Kaleb Vierra, and Delaney McManus.

We are working on creating multiple Digital Junior Ranger prototypes in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) and National Historic Trails (Intermountain Region). These prototypes are the blueprints of Digital Junior Ranger programs, which will influence the final product. 

Over the last two years, the Digital Junior Ranger team has been traveling around the country to conduct national historic trails research, including visiting museums and interpretive centers, talking with experts, and even taking our prototypes to test them at schools, nonprofit organizations, and homeschool groups to get feedback from students, teachers, and parents. 

These junior ranger programs are similar to those you may have experienced at NPS sites such as Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks, but ours are a little different because they are all digitally accessible. 

Due to COVID-19, our ability to visit schools and share our programs with people has been limited, so we also created a website and social media channels to connect with the public. You can access a mixture of activities that we have created and incorporated from other resources, including games, quizzes, and crafts. For each activity on the website, there are also surveys available so we can have direct insight about whether or not you enjoyed the activity, what you learned from it, and ways to improve it. Asking these questions will help us immensely to understand what makes an effective, engaging, and worthy Digital Junior Ranger program. 

Because of the pandemic, many people have had to work or learn remotely from home. Our Digital Junior Ranger team took advantage of this unique opportunity to come up with a three-part virtual series using Zoom in April. The interactive events included small discussions, journaling activities, and more. The target audience was ages 9-14, however, all were welcome to attend. 

Our project grant is ending at the end of the Spring 2020 semester, and it will soon be time to analyze and compile our data and research. We will be furnishing a report for the NPS this summer with our recommendations for the new Digital Junior Ranger program.

Learn more about Digital Junior Rangers:

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.