KNWR launches junior ranger program

Volunteer Natasha Pristas paints a purple butterfly on Sofia Wood, 3, during the launch party for the junior ranger program at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Thursday. (Drew Herman photo)

While her relatives attended a dull, grown-up meeting at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) Visitor Center, 11-year-old Alisandra Lake made the most of her time, becoming the first KNWR junior ranger.

“I did the whole packet and then the scavenger hunt in one day,” Lake said.

The booklet she worked through, developed recently by KNWR education specialist Shelly Lawson, leads children 9-12 years old through activities that teach about Kodiak’s environment and wildlife. Another booklet by refuge volunteer and Salmon Camp counselor Liz Allard does the same for kids 5-8 years old.

Lawson said many Kodiak parents were familiar with the National Wildlife System’s junior ranger program from visits to other wildlife refuges, but the crowd of about 100 at Thursday’s launch party for the Kodiak version surprised her.

“We didn’t know how many people were going to turn up,” she said. “We had a huge turnout.”

Refuge staff got help from spontaneous volunteers for the unexpectedly large event. Adults helped keep things going, with face painting, a puppet show and exploration of visitors center exhibits.

Kids checked out 45 of the junior ranger books Thursday, and 16 finished all the assignments before going home.

Lake actually did hers before the program’s official rollout, and was able to collect the special junior ranger patch at the party. She especially likes the bird exhibit at the visitor center.

With the junior ranger oath, kids promise to show respect for animals and the land, set a good example by their actions, and share what they learn with others. By qualifying as junior rangers at additional national wildlife refuges, they can work their way up to the status of adventure ranger.

The Kodiak-specific version includes information about fishing etiquette, living in bear country, and the importance of the environment, with word searches and mazes. Local student Chloe Nelson designed the booklet cover.

The new program joins KNWR’s Wednesday morning Families Understanding Nature (FUN), which targets younger children 3-5 years old.

Ranger-aged kids, 6-12 years old, can take part in interactive educational activities Thursdays at 1 p.m., concentrating on a different nature topic each week.

“We have scavenger hunts any kid can do,” Lawson said, noting children can work on their junior ranger tasks at home and at the visitor center. “They can stop in any time and check out a book.”

Refuge staff hope the junior ranger program draws more families to the center and the refuge “and gets them talking to us,” Lawson said.

Mirror writer Drew Herman can be reached via email at

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