Weston Forest and Trail’s Junior Ranger Program Springs Into Gear

One of the great delights of living in semi-rural Weston is not only seeing the seasons change outside the window, but getting outside the house and into the fields and trails that are town-owned and nature-filled. Most residents of Weston live less than a mile from a trail entrance that connects to a network of trails and conservation properties unrivaled in metrowest Boston.

One year ago, as the town and country locked down, Weston went out–into its own collective backyard. Instead of visiting Montmartre and Hilversum for spring break, people visited “Jericho,” “Ogilvie” and “Sears” (the latter two conservation properties, not the stores). Weston Forest & Trail Association, the local nonprofit responsible for the maintenance of and education about the trails, got taken by surprise as emails poured in looking for trail recommendations, map purchases, and information about the natural environment. One group, more than any other, wanted to know where to go: parents.

“I grew up in the woods and fields of Westchester County, New York,” says Kristin Barbieri, one of the trustees of WFTA. “My parents took my brother and me exploring all the time–my mom knew the names of all the trees and plants, and my dad would lead the way up the mountains of the Hudson Valley.”

“It took me a while to realize that not everyone had this “outdoor pedigree”, a term I learned from a Mass Land Trust presentation about bringing more diverse audiences into the woods. And once I figured that out, I wanted to help.”

WFTA has alway run monthly walks to explore Conservation properties, but these were canceled due to Covid restrictions. Something new and different was needed to help kids and their parents learn about Weston’s natural joys. The trustees began to look online for ideas and discovered that some of Weston’s neighbors had chidren’s field guides and programs, including the Minuteman National Park. In the end, the major catalyst came from farther afield.

“Barbara Alfond, a Weston resident and supporter of WFTA, sent me a beautiful little children’s field notebook from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. It was perfect–and I used that inspiration to finalize Weston’s version.”

Learning to read trail signs is part of the Junior Ranger noteboo

WFTA Junior Ranger Program

In September of 2020, WFTA launched the Junior Ranger program, a self (and parent) driven learning experience. Interested kids complete a series of activities around some of the trails and open spaces in Weston’s Conservation land, share their answers with the program director, and receive an official Junior Ranger pin and Junior Ranger certificate. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 4 to 11, although people of all ages can participate. Kids aged 8+ can opt for an extra challenge with Ranger Plus.

Working on the Notebook. WFTA’s first two junior rangers, aged 8 and 5 at time of certification

There are now nine certified Junior Rangers, “ranging” from age 4 to age 8. All but one are Weston residents. It is quite an accomplishment to finish the Ranger notebook–it’s not easy. Here’s a half-page from the notebook:

With winter chasing many folks inside (while the Owl just strapped on the cross-country skis or snowshoes), the program has hit a dip in participation–there have been no new Junior Rangers awarded certificates since December 4. Spring’s wood frogs and peepers should bring out families looking to finish the notebook, or perhaps just start it. WFTA guarantees that adults will learn as much as their kids, but only the junior rangers get the special pin and certificate*.

Spring is here, Weston! Go outside and listen for the wood frogs. Lift up the leaf piles and look for the overwintering little beasties. Marvel at the shelf fungi, and soon…very soon…the lady’s slippers and bright green tree buds. Bring your kids with you. You all will learn something. Maps to conservation properties here.

*there is one Senior Ranger, Barbara Alfond, for inspiring the Junior Ranger Notebook.

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