Kelly McCann and I were invited to the Let’s MOVE! Outside (formerly 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. Kelly 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.

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.

I am thrilled to be a part of this major project! By 2016, we are hoping to have an additional 50 cities following in our footsteps. The National Park Service and the Y of the Greater Twin Cities kicked off the pilot year with a string of Junior Park Ranger Camps!

Junior Ranger Camps:

There were 4 YMCA Day Camps that each offered four 1-week camp sessions, half of them at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area with my counterpart Kelly McCann and the other half at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. My responsibility was assisting with the service element of the Jr Ranger Camp.

On the day kids came to the St Croix National Scenic Riverway to do a service project, we had two separate activates based on group size. When the group was large, I led shoreline clean ups along the WI side of the St Croix River and on the Stillwater Islands. When the group was small, we taught the kids about pictographs and petroglyphs. Then we went on a hike to see Native American rock carvings.  Both activities included additional discussions about the Riverway and the importance of keeping it protected and clean. At the end of the day, the kids would demonstrate their new found knowledge of the River to be sworn in as official Junior Rangers (a proud moment for everyone). For photos and details, check out Jr Ranger Camp Service Day on the St Croix River.

The pilot program had over 200 kids earning their Junior Park Ranger badge which was fantastic! However, we have no intention of stopping there. Our plan is to get all kids involved and earning their badges one city at a time.

Click here to read Kelly McCann’s side of the story.

Check out this video to get a first-person look at the camps: Junior Park Ranger Camps 2015, YMCA Twin Cities