Park rangers are icons of the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages a system of over 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 the public 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 emphasis 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 children ages 7 and up. (Formerly, we advertised the booklet for children ages 7-12. However, we now welcome all ages. We have found that children who have been doing Junior Ranger activities for their entire lives do not always want to stop.) We also have Junior Ranger, Jr. cards for pre-readers. Both are available for free at Boston Store Visitor Center. The handbook can also be downloaded. Go to www.nps.gov/cuva and search for Junior Ranger.

In addition to the self-guided activities, we offer popular Junior Ranger programs.

These programs require pre-registration and have a small fee. New this year, online registration is available at www.conservancyforcvnp.org/education/junior-ranger.

We have programs for three age levels: ages 4 to 6, 7 to 12, and 12 to 16. Programs for the oldest kids focus on kayak skills. A sampling of up-coming programs include:

July 15 -- Junior Ranger: Fossil Fun. Have you ever seen a rock that looked like a strange creature? Maybe it's a fossil from millions of years ago. Join us on a fossil-hunting adventure. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

July 17 or Aug. 4 -- Junior Ranger: American Indian Ways. Explore the ways American Indians lived and learned in and around the Cuyahoga Valley. Play games and complete a craft. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. For ages 7 to 12.

July 19 -- Junior Ranger, Jr.: A Seed's Journey. Follow the journey of a seed from small beginnings to magnificent tree, then from fallen log into soil. Explore a variety of bark, leaves, stumps, and nuts. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. For ages 4 to 6.

July 26 or Aug. 10 -- Junior Ranger: Pond Pursuits. Park ponds are teeming with life, both above and below the water's surface. Join a ranger to learn which animals make ponds their home. From 6 to 8 p.m. For ages 7 to 12.

July 27 -- Junior Ranger, Jr.: Amazing Animal Senses. Learn how to nose around like a coyote, listen with your deer ears, and take in the forest with your five senses. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. For ages 4 to 6.

Aug. 2 -- Junior Ranger, Jr.: A Very Busy Forest. Explore the wonders of the woods through art, story, hiking, and nature play. We'll search for clues to uncover which animals live among the trees. From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. For ages 4 to 6.

Sessions of Junior Ranger Teen kayaking basics will occur on July 19, 24, and Aug. 8.

Children who want to discover more about the profession of rangering and national parks can also find online activities. The NPS has an excellent, interactive website especially for children called WebRangers. Children log on as a ranger, create their own ranger station, and complete a series of activities online. To find this website, go to www.nps.gov and follow the Kids link.

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. Boston Store Visitor Center is located at 1550 Boston Mills Road, east of Riverview Road in Peninsula.

Vasarhelyi is chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.