Junior ranger program designed to connect families to nature

Q: I will be raising my grandson and am interested in getting him involved outdoors. Would you tell me about the DeKalb County Junior Ranger program?

A: There are two DeKalb County Junior Ranger programs: one county-wide (but centered at Mason Mill) and the other at the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve Nature Center located in the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.

Launched at the beginning of the pandemic, the program was created by DeKalb County Park Naturalist – Mason Mill Park Jonah McDonald. The program is free and the 12 activities can be done at any DeKalb County park, another local green space or even one’s backyard. The series of activities are self-guided and designed for ages six through 12.

“This is a way to say the place that I live right now, how can I learn about it and not just go to a destination or famous park,” McDonald stated.

With a degree in history, his “belief was that it (history) enables you to think about the world, figure out new ways to learn …,” he said.

In search of what his work world might be, the naturalist spent six months backpacking the Appalachian Trail.

“Mason Mill Park has 100 acres of forest, and the more I explored DeKalb County, the more I found there are so many parks that just don’t have playgrounds or baseball fields, but also have natural areas,” he said. “For me, someone who has actually walked for 6 months in nature, I found that short outings close to home can be as life-changing as a 2,000 mile walk on the Appalachian Trail.

“The activities range from something as simple as go have fun in the outdoors and tell us what you did to something scientific that instructs the participant to find four different birds or flowers, observe them and tell us what you saw, where you saw it and draw a picture of it. It spans a pretty wide range,” he explained.

Nature recyclers is one of his favorites. Participants are asked to flip over a log and find nature’s recyclers, such as worms underneath or fungus, followed by finding a piece of trash that can be recycled.

“So we are looking at recycling from both the observation of nature and the stewardship of nature,” said McDonald.

He notes that the activities are adjustable and a tool to help parents connect their children to nature.

“These are opportunities for you to have good family time together, and to explore and learn,” the naturalist added.

For more information, visit https://www.dekalbcountyga.gov/parks/junior-ranger

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