37 National Parks, 37 Junior Ranger Badges
National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.” My family wholeheartedly agrees.
For the last five years, my wife Kathy and our daughter Whitney have visited 37 National Parks and participated in the Junior Ranger Program. When you complete a Junior Ranger Program at a National Park, you get a badge. Our family calls it park bling.
Our journey through America’s National Park System has touched each coast and places in between. We have visited the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast, the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, the National Mall in Washington, DC., and the Tuskegee Airmen National Park in Alabama.
But out of all the National Parks, we have visited and Junior Ranger Badges we have earned, Fort Fredricka Monument Park on St. Simons Island had the most impressive living history program.
When my family arrived at the King and Prince Hotel this spring, at the top of our itinerary was a visit to Fort Fredricka.
To be honest, my 9-year-old daughter was a little bit hesitant.
“I don’t like war!” she declared in the backseat of our car during our short ten-minute ride to the park from the hotel.
Many of the South’s National Parks are connected with the Civil War. And despite its historical significance, my daughter’s recent visit to the Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain Battlefields near Chattanooga, Tennessee were not among her favorite parks.
But Fort Fredricka was different. Instead of focusing on the brief battles that occurred in Colonial America, the park’s Junior Ranger program brings to life the people who lived there three centuries ago, the settlement and everyday life. Walking through the park with the Fort Fredricka Junior Ranger booklet (it is titled “Open the Door to Explore”) and a bag full of day-to-day Colonial items, the park turned into a playful scavenger hunt and adventure.
Walking amongst the ruins of the houses and mossy live oaks, we imagined living in the New World. Life as a child. Life making simple, but important things, such as candles. And homes ranging from brick houses for the wealthy to huts made of palmetto leaves constructed by the poor in the community.
Of all the 37 badges (bling) my daughter has earned, Fort Fredricka’s Junior Ranger booklet/program has been the most informative and imaginative. For days, my daughter re-lived the visit, talked about life nearly 300 years ago on St. Simons Island, making candles, running around the ancient trees and playing games.
America’s National Parks truly are its “Best Idea.” And Fort Fredricka is one of its best parks. Take that advice from a little girl who does not like war, but likes to play, live life to the fullest and has 37 Junior Ranger badges – her beloved Park Bling.
Image Credit: National Park Service