Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Danielle Browne and I were invited to the Let’s MOVE! Outside ( developed out of the Play, Learn, Serve, Work Initiative) Steering Committee on September 17th. Both Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway participated in the pilot summer camps. Danielle and I will be writing a series of blog posts that will detail our participation in the initiative so far and the planning efforts moving forward. We hope to provide insight into the front lines of the initiative, as one of the 9 pilot cities.

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For background:

The Play, Learn, Serve, Work initiative began in 2014 as a collaboration between the Department of the Interior, the YMCA, and American Express. The partnership was forged with a four-pronged goal statement:

“-Play: Outdoor play opportunities for 10 million youth

-Learn: Educational opportunities for 10 million youth

-Serve: Engage 1 million volunteers on public lands

-Work: Provide 100,000 work and training opportunities for young adults”

In July of 2015, the Play, Learn, Serve, Work Initiative was picked up by First Lady Michelle Obama’s project, Let’s MOVE! Outside. Hence the new name, but with the same mission and purpose.

Throwing Seed Bombs!
Throwing Seed Bombs!

I am lucky enough to work at one of the pilot cities! There will be 50 total cities by 2016 that we hope will want to follow in the Twin Cities’ footsteps. The National Park Service and the Y of the Greater Twin Cities kicked off our pilot year with a string of Junior Park Ranger Camps!

Junior Ranger Camps:

I was involved in these camps through both the planning and execution stages. There were 4 YMCA Day Camps that each offered four 1-week camp sessions, half of them here at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the other half were with my counterpart, Danielle Browne, at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.


At camp, we created ‘seed bombs’ which are essentially mud balls with native prairie seeds dried inside. The kids got to go on a canoe trip down the Mississippi River, and we brought the seed bombs along to restore a prairie at a park site along the way. Check out my previous blog post for more pictures!  We also worked with the Y camp counselors to provide ideas and resources for fun activities to do throughout the week like macroinvertebrate sampling for water quality. The campers were sworn in as official Junior Rangers at the end of their day camp and went home proudly sporting their new badge.

Campers on voyageur canoes, provided by our partner Wilderness Inquiry

We certainly achieved the goal of getting more children outside, a total of 445 to be exact! They had plenty of opportunities to play and also had the opportunity to learn from dedicated camp counselors, directly from a ranger, and on their own through experiential learning. Our service component of making and throwing seed bombs was an effortless addition to give the kids a taste of restoration and volunteerism.

Check out this video to get a first-person look at the camps: 

Click here to read Danielle Browne’s side of the story.