Park rangers are icons of the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages a system of more than 400 parks and historic sites across the country. We are recognized by our gray shirts, green pants, and hats with a wide, flat brim. Our badge, with a prominent bison, represents our association with America’s natural and historic treasures.

The NPS hires two kinds of rangers. One group focuses on protection of park resources and visitors. Protection rangers have law enforcement commissions and conduct search-and-rescue, emergency medicine, monitoring of park conditions, and similar activities.

The second group of rangers, which includes me, focuses on interpretation and education. Our role is to teach and inspire people about national parks. We lead programs, conduct field trips, answer questions in visitor centers, develop exhibits, and more. Both groups of rangers uphold the mission of the NPS to preserve parks and help people enjoy them today and into future generations.

Building on this icon, the NPS invites a third group of rangers to get involved in national parks — kids! Sites around the country offer Junior Ranger programs as a way for kids to share in the fun and challenge of learning about and protecting parks. At Cuyahoga Valley National Park, many of our children’s programs come under the label of Junior Ranger programs.

Junior Ranger programs emphasize doing, observing, identifying, helping, and creating. Most national parks offer self-guided activity booklets that kids complete during a visit to earn their own symbol of rangering, a Junior Ranger badge.

At Cuyahoga Valley National, we have a Junior Ranger activity booklet designed for people ages 7 and up. Junior Ranger, Jr. cards are available for pre-readers to do with their parents. We also have some Junior Ranger activity booklets on specialized topics such as the Great Lakes. All are available for free at Boston Store Visitor Center (1550 Boston Mills Road, Peninsula).

In addition to the self-guided activities, we offer popular Junior Ranger programs. Children earn a badge by attending two programs and a patch by attending four programs. A parent or guardian is required to attend programs with participants. Our summer schedule runs through mid-August. Monthly programs are available the rest of the year. These programs require pre-registration, but attendance is free. Online registration is available at www.conservancyforcvnp.org. Location is provided upon registration. A sampling of upcoming programs includes:

Thursday, July 12 or Wednesday, Aug. 18

Junior Ranger Jr.: Meet the Unhuggables

Sometimes looks are deceiving. A park ranger leads the hunt for "un-huggable" animals and plants that are in need of friends. Discover the important roles these ugly ducklings play in nature. 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For ages 4 to 6.

Friday, July 13 and Tuesday, July 24

Junior Ranger: All About Owls

Whoooo are we? We like to eat small mammals and are most active at night. Give up? Join a ranger to learn about owls’ nocturnal habits. Dissect an owl pellet to discover their favorite foods. 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

Saturday, July 14

Junior Ranger: Pond Life Discovery

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the surface of that pond water? Use a net to investigate what exactly lives there and discover the life cycles of some fascinating creatures. 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

Monday, July 16 and Saturday, July 28

Junior Ranger Jr.: Who’s Hiding

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the surface of that pond water? Use a net to investigate what exactly lives there and discover the life cycles of some fascinating creatures. 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

Wednesday, July 18

Junior Ranger, Jr.: Nature’s Music

Listen — the forest has its own musical rhythms: a chorus of chirps, a drumming of feet, a whistle through the trees. Tune into the sounds of nature, wiggle, dance, and make your own music. 5 – 7 p.m. For ages 4 to 6.

Wednesday, July 18 or Monday, July 23

Fossil Fun

Have you ever found a rock that looked like a strange creature? Maybe it’s a fossil from when shallow seas covered the land millions of years ago. Join us on a fossil-hunting adventure. 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

Saturday, July 28

Bats!

Ohio’s bats are disappearing and need our help. Join a ranger to uncover facts about these amazing creatures and watch bats emerge for nighttime feeding. 7 – 9 p.m. For ages 7 to 12.

For children seeking a more in-depth experience, we are offering a week-long Junior Ranger day camp from Monday, July 30 through Friday, Aug. 3. The camp is presented in partnership with the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park for children entering grades one through six. For frequently asked questions and online registration, visit cvnpedu.org.

For more information about Junior Ranger programs and other children’s activities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, call 330-657-2952 or visit online at www.nps.gov/cuva.

Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.