Recently, Washington Wild, The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, and THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY announced that all three nonprofits are teaming up to create a Wild Lands & Waters Youth Explorer Booklet, modeled after the successful Junior Ranger program managed by the National and State Parks Departments. The booklet will encourage youth to explore their wild places—from their backyards and community gardens to local, state, and national parks—to build foundational connections with the outdoor environment.
As we draw closer to making this program a reality, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the invaluable contribution our board member, Roberta Moore, has made to this effort. For five years, the Wild Lands & Waters Explorer program has been on our organization’s ‘to-do/wish list’ until Roberta joined the WA Wild team. A retired National Park Service Ranger and Interpreter, Roberta dedicated her career to sharing the wonders of nature with visitors to Nevada’s Great Basin National Park for nearly 30 years, giving our staff the guidance and support we needed to turn our plans into action.
In her own words, Roberta shares her experience as an informal educator, how important it is to empower youth to travel the roads of discovery, and the benefits of programs like the Wild Lands & Waters Explorer program.
There is nothing that compares to seeing the light in a child’s eyes when they discover the magic of wild places. And it gets even better when they realize that these wild, magical places are right under their feet—close enough to see, touch, smell, and discover.
As a former Interpretive Park Ranger at Great Basin National Park in Nevada, I had the great fortune of helping make that connection for kids. Showing them firsthand that wild places are closer than they think and absolutely accessible to them.
I remember a school group of prospective Junior Rangers, 3rd and 4th graders visiting from nearby Las Vegas. Coming from a city brimming with glitter, gold, and neon, their visit to Great Basin NP (world-renowned for its dark skies) on a cold, snowy day in January could not have provided a greater contrast. As they stepped off the bus, I was stunned by how many asked “What is that white stuff on the ground?”. When I explained it was snow, I could see their curiosity explode and their imaginations run wild with the chance to play in this new, beautiful landscape.
One door opened and the next, as I led us into another world, the deep, dark of Lehman Caves. After a short introduction and some fun facts about underground geology, I handed them clipboards, paper, and pencils, and sent them on their way. Within moments, you could see their minds burst with new ideas; making connections, pondering questions, the thrill of discovery, and most importantly, appreciation.
Outside of my work as a National Park Ranger, I’ve also developed programs to introduce kids to “Playground Wilderness”. In the midst of one group’s explorations, I overhead a fifth-grader reminding her group of something very important. She told the group, “Remember what Roberta told us about our playground being a wild place, where all the insects and other critters that live here under the plants, live in their own wilderness.” I am of course paraphrasing her comments, but the heart of this story is in the process of discovery. Making the connection and appreciating that wild places are far closer than those kids could have ever imagined!
We need environmental education programs like Washington Wild’s Wild Lands & Waters Explorer program. Kids need to be introduced to a world without walls. They need to know that ‘the wild’ does not just exist in faraway places, there is also wilderness that waits for them just outside their front and/or back doors. The need to build this connection and sense of place, of belonging. And I believe Washington Wild has created a program that will do just that. The Wild Lands & Waters booklet will open these doors, leading our kids, and maybe even their parents, to paths of discovery.
Our kids deserve for us to help bring back the wonder! Youth deserve to be empowered to throw open doors and windows and travel the roads of discovery. They deserve to make the connection that these opportunities are just steps ahead, not miles away.
Join us in making this project a reality for our youth all across Washington and watch as they lead our next generation of land and water conservationists.
—Roberta Moore, WA Wild Board Member and Former NPS Ranger
If you would like to support our Wild Lands & Waters Explorer program, you can learn more and donate here.