Author Archive

Empowering Young Park Stewards at Cabrillo National Monument

This year for Kids to Parks Day the National Park Trust invited Buddy Bison and me to an interview with Whitney Southwick at NBC7 San Diego. We were there to talk about Kids to Parks Day at Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, CA).

A few days before the interview, I was not sure what Cabrillo National Monument had planned for Kids to Parks Day, so I contacted my friend, Ranger Alex. I met Ranger Alex when I was volunteering at Channel Islands National Park—she is a scuba diver, scientist, and she loves working with kids. She said that Cabrillo National Monument didn’t have much planned for Kids to

Student Ambassador Tigran (center) and family getting ready for Kids to Parks Day with Ranger Alex (far left).

Parks Day, but she would like to help set up some fun activities. I was very pleasantly surprised about how enthusiastic and excited she was to participate in Kids to Parks Day. In just a few days, she had managed to set up a special booth with science games, junior ranger booklets, and other fun activities.

The day after the interview was Kids to Parks Day, and Buddy Bison, my cousins, and I rushed over to Cabrillo National Monument where we met up with Ranger Alex. She showed us around and let us run the science booth for the day. This Kids to Parks Day was one of the busiest I have ever been to. We were able to talk to a lot of people about the park. At the end of the day, we met with Ranger Alex and I found out that she does other very amazing activities at the park.

Ranger Alex has helped set up some special summer camps like the EcoLogik Project.  The EcoLogik program is a hands-on science camp that connects young ladies to nature and technology. This program is offered free of charge to increase access and promote inclusion for girls from underrepresented backgrounds pursuing scientific fields.  A few weeks later, Ranger Alex invited

EcoLogik participates Ophelia and Clara in action.

me to Cabrillo to talk to some of the kids in the Ecologik camp. When I got there, I found that they had set up an entire event to talk about what they did. The great thing about this camp is that the kids don’t just learn about science and nature; they get involved in REAL science that park rangers do everyday! Even better, the camp is free to enter and it tries to reach out to under-served communities. I was very impressed with all of the knowledge that the kids gained over two weeks of the Ecologik camp. They learned everything from animal telemetry to aquatic animal identification. This camp shows what the next generation of park rangers and visitors might look like. Ecologik gives these kids the tools for success.  

Later that same day I interviewed Ranger Alex about the Program.

  1. What is your name? – Alexandria Warneke
  2. What is your job in the NPS? – Science Program Coordinator and Marine Biologist
  3. What park do you work at? – Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA
  4. What is your favorite part of your job? – I enjoy inspiring others to see the park in a new way and connect them to something they never thought about, or a different part of nature, to really get that “WOW” factor of why they would want to come back and preserve and protect their National Park.
  5. Why is it important to get kids outdoors and involved in activities? – I am really impacted by the idea of ‘legacy’- that something is so incredible, powerful and/or beautiful that people cared enough about it that they wanted to protect it so that others could see too. I think getting kids outdoors connects them to this idea, to their legacy. My job is to make sure that they too are inspired enough to care. 
  6. I have heard that you have set up some special summer camps and activities, would you describe a few? – My team and I are constantly coming up with new and fun activities, but most recently we have just hosted our second year of our summer camp – The EcoLogik Project. This is a two week summer camp for young ladies in science and it’s purpose is to connect them to nature through the lens of technology. In collaboration with our partners, we teach these students how to ask ecological questions within the context of the park and solve environmental problems using the innovative and game changing technology accessible at our fingertips. It is through this framework that we are providing them the tools to be the next generation of park stewards. 
  7. Why are these activities important? – So all the activities we do in the EcoLogik Camp are the actual ways we collect data in the park as scientists, so we don’t water it down at all. We don’t change it. We give them the same tools we are using because kids are fully capable of understanding as long as you make it relatable and provide them a reason to care. These girls are learning the same methods we have used to collect data for the last 30 years in the tidepools. They are learning how to track snakes in the Park using telemetry and why that matters and what does the data mean. So often in schools kids learn how to read graphs, and how to put data on a chart, but getting that context of what that data really means ecologically, what does it mean for the earth, what does it mean for the National Parks is what makes this camp a little bit different.
  8. What materials did you create to for the programs? – We focus on creating fully science integrated materials. We believe that students of all ages are more than capable to understand how we collect data and make inferences into what that data means. We strive to create materials that make science relatable. 
  9. How long have you been doing these activities for? I have been with the Park Service for four years. Before that I was a research scientist with San Diego State University and science communication and education consultant. 
  10. What are the benefits of these programs? National Parks are all about creating connections, people want to feel connected to the resources, to the stories, to the science. Through our program we strive to connect to people where they are- whether that be in the park or in the community. 
  11. Do you think other parks should have similar activities in their local area? – I am constantly inspired by the other units in the National Park Service. I have never met more passionate, hardworking people. I think each park finds it’s own way to connect with their community best. 
  12. What advice would you give to another ranger if they want to set up similar activities? Keep Calm and Adapt On. You must often champion your own projects and sometimes this can be intimidating and there can be many hurdles, but keep your head up, be adaptable, and push forward. You will succeed.

Student Ambassador Audrey Explores our Western Parks

Hello Buddy Bison Friends,

It’s Audrey and right now I am on summer break from school, which means vacation time!  My family is taking a special trip to several new parks. I took my first plane trip to the west coast, which was exciting by itself, but the parks are the feature of this trip.

So far we have been to eleven NPS sites. I started by visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, and the “Flagstaff” parks – Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Glen Canyon National Monument (and Horseshoe Bend), Arches National Park and Canyonlands National

Park. I also visited Navajo National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, and Hovenweep National Monument. 

During our visit to Navajo National Monument I was able to meet up with the latest Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan. It was nice to meet Bryan and his amazing family. (Pictured Above)

My favorite part so far has been visiting Horseshoe Bend (AZ). We actually went twice. The first time it was really hot and we did not pack enough water, so we turned back rather quickly. I’ve learned to bring lots of water and wear appropriate shoes when visiting the parks out west. After we were better equipped, we went back later in the day and there was a breeze – it was still hot, but overall it was a little cooler.

Ambassador Audrey at Horseshoe Bend

At every park we have visited so far I have seen kids working on their Junior Ranger Booklets and I have been working on mine too. These booklets are great tools to learn more about the park you are visiting. Do not be afraid of getting a question wrong – the Rangers are great at helping and explaining harder questions you may not know or understand. 

Another big thing that we have been able to take advantage of is my fourth grade Every Kid In A Park Pass.  This is really the first time I have been able to use the pass – it has been very beneficial to me and my family to allow us to get into parks at no charge.  I am a short time away from starting my fifth grade year, and I wanted to remind those of you who are rising fourth graders to be sure and sign up for the Every Kid In A Park Pass and get out and find a Park near you!

Ambassador Audrey taking her Junior Ranger Oath at Mesa Verde National Park.

We have learned a lot about geology and Native American Cultures on this trip and it has been amazing! I also gave away a Buddy Bison plush to a little girl during our trip.  That was fun!

Bye for now and see you in the parks my Buddy Bison Friends!

— Audrey

Remembering the Long Walk

Our newest Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan Wilson has recently moved with his family to Navajo Nation. This summer, Bryan interviewed Edison Eskeets, of The Message, The Run project,  to learn more about the Long Walk and how Mr. Eskeets honored the 150th anniversary of this devastating chapter of Navajo history.

“Ya’at’eeh, this is Jr Ranger Bryan with a message from Navajo Nation:

Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan and Edison Eskeets at Hubbell Trading Post NHS.

After hearing accounts from Rangers at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site and Navajo National Monument and doing my own research, I learned about one of the most horrible times in Navajo history called the Long Walk.

In 1864, during a brutal winter, approximately 10,000 Navajos were forced out of their homes in present day Arizona and walked over 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Men, women, children, and elderly were surrounded by US Army and if they couldn’t keep up, they were shot on the spot. Those who survived the walk suffered in horrible living conditions at the Bosque Redondo internment camp. Many people ate rats because they were starving. Many more became very ill. One third of the Navajos died. But finally, on June 1, 1868, a treaty was signed to return home where life was anything but back to normal.

June 1st, 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. To commemorate the Long Walk and celebrate the resilience of the Navajo people, Edison Eskeets ran from Chinle, AZ to Sante Fe, NM and retraced the steps of the Long Walk.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Edison Eskeets, a 66 year old Navajo man, who started his running career as a young boy by herding livestock. He was such a great runner as a young adult he came seconds away from making the Olympics in the Boston Marathon.

I asked Mr. Eskeets why some Navajos were against him running and retracing the steps of the Long Walk. He said, “some traditional Navajos are sensitive and hesitant to it [the events of the Long Walk], but it is important to look at it as history. We have to read about it, learn from it, and understand it because ultimately we don’t ever want it to repeat because if we ignore it then here it is again.”

Mr. Edison Eskeets.

I also asked Mr. Eskeets what was the message he wanted to share to his people. He said, “A treaty was signed with agreements and they tried to make us leave behind traditions but we [the Dine, the Navajos] survived. The language survived and was maintained and used during WWII and since the treaty the Navajos have done very well and have been successful.”

Mr. Eskeets wanted to leave a message for the youth of today. “Maintain and embrace your ethnic background. When you get older, you will feel the loss. You will wish you could speak your native language and know more about its traditions.”

You can find Mr. Eskeets at Hubbell Trading Post where he works for the Western National Park Association (WNPA). He enjoys learning from and teaching visitors at Hubbell. He’s happy to be a part of the Trading Post history that will survive for a long time.  

You can also follow Edison Eskeets @theMessage_theRun on Instagram or check out his WNPA site.”


Jr Ranger Bryan

“Shell-a-brating” Healthy Ecosystems

This spring, I got to help with a project called the “Shell-A-Bration” in Newport, New Jersey. Newport is a town on the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bay is a beautiful place with many different types of wildlife.  Many people visit the Delaware Bay just to see the amazing birds that stop there during their migrations.

At the Shell-A-Bration I got to help build a reef from bags of whelk shells. The bags are made out of netting so that the water can move through them, but the shells will stay in place. To make the reef, the bags were lined up on the sand so that they will be covered by the water.  One of the reasons that the reef was built is to help keep the sand on the beach from washing away. If the beach washes away, the animals that live there will disappear. I had so much fun getting to put on waders and helping to carry the bags of shells down to the water. The bags were pretty heavy, so we made a line where one person would pass the bag of shells to the next person until it got to the water. I definitely got very wet and muddy, but I had a great time.

Sarah standing with whelk shells used to make the reef.

Two animals that really depend on the Delaware Bay are the red knot and the horseshoe crab. The red knot is a bird that migrates every year from South America to the Arctic. In the spring, these birds leave South America and fly up to 9,000 miles to the tundra in the Arctic! They spend the spring and the summer in the Arctic and then fly back to South America for the winter. On the way to the Arctic, the red knots stop at the Delaware Bay to eat lots of food so that they can keep flying. One of their main foods at the Delaware Bay are horseshoe crab eggs.

Horseshoe crabs live in the water in the Delaware Bay. They get their name from their shape. The top part of their body looks like the shape of a horseshoe, and underneath they look like a crab. But they are actually more closely related to spiders than crabs. Once a year, horseshoe crabs come out onto the beaches and lay eggs. It is perfect timing because this happens at the same time when the red knots are stopping at the Delaware Bay on their way to the Arctic. As long as there are enough horseshoe crabs, the red knots will have enough to eat to finish flying to the Arctic. Scientists are worried because there are less red knots than there used to be. One way to help the red knots is to make sure that the horseshoe crabs have a place on the beach to lay their eggs. This is one of the reasons why they are building reefs, like the one that I got to help build at the Shell-A-Bration. Other wildlife, like fish, can also use the reefs as a place to live or to hide from predators.

I really enjoyed volunteering to help build the reef and also learning about animals that live in and around the Delaware Bay. I definitely want to go back next year to help build another reef!


Buddy Bison’s Buzz June Update

Kids to Parks Day 2018 

St. Francis Xavier Academy students set off on their Anacostia River adventure with the Anacostia Riverkeepers.

I am so excited that Kids to Parks Day was such a success this year! Over 1 million of you joined me by getting outside to your local parks. Did you know that there were 1,200 events in all 50 states and Washington, DC?! The Kids to Parks Day School Contest was also a big hit this year with over 5,000 students that were awarded park grants to celebrate the day! These students got outside with their schools to hike, learn and help clean up their local parks. Check out this video and see if you can spot me in some of the pictures.

The Anacostia River plays a huge role in day-to-day life in Washington, D.C. That’s why my signature Kids to Parks Day event this year was spent exploring it! Students from St. Francis Xavier Academy and Blue Star Families discovered life in and around the river with the DC Department of Energy and Environment’s Aquatic Resources Education Center, National Park Conservation Association, and Anacostia Riverkeeper. We also met the Buffalo Soldiers, the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army, and the first park rangers before there was even a Park Service! Local news station WJLA was there too and helped us document the day!

After learning about the river, I went with some of our Blue Star Families to the Department of the Interior to meet Secretary Ryan Zinke! We thanked him for his support of military families and delivered 1,000 postcards that were written by 4th graders that shared why we all love our parks and the Every Kid in a Park pass. Do you know that this pass allows all 4th graders and their families to get into all National Park Service sites and other federal public lands for free? I was very happy to hear that just last week the Secretary and Department of the Interior  announced that they plan to continue this program! If you know a 4th grader make sure they get their pass so their family can enjoy a park this summer.


HEROs and Students Meet Amazing Animals 

Nothing beats getting to explore outdoors with your friends! Thanks to the generosity of Caesar’s and their HERO volunteers, I was able to explore with two different schools, in two very unique parks. I visited the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (Golden Pond, KY) with STEM club students from Metropolis Elementary and I also visited Estell Manor Park (Mays Landing, NJ) with 3rd graders from the Pennsylvania Ave School. Both of these parks had many different habitats, and I loved getting to see all the different critters that lived there.

A Metropolis ES student and a HERO volunteer look into a dip net for animals.

Pennsylvania Avenue School students and a HERO volunteer look for birds at Estell Manor Park.

Land Between the Lakes NRA spans Tennessee and Kentucky, and, as the name implies, is in between Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake. This Recreation Area is a great place to hike, bike, boat, and see wild bison! While I was there with Metropolis ES students, we got to see a planetarium presentation and explored the nature center. The nature center is home to rehabilitated animals, like birds of prey, a bobcat, and deer. They also have two red wolves! After seeing the nature center, we went down to the river to search for critters with dip nets. We found baby turtles, fish, and lots of bugs!

I also went to New Jersey last month, and met HERO volunteers at Estell Manor Park. The volunteers and I met up with the 3rd graders from the Pennsylvania Avenue School in Atlantic City. During our visit, we explored the nature center, went on a birding hike with binoculars, and made bird feeders. It was so much fun to see what feathered friends were hiding in the woods and along the river edge. We also had a picnic lunch and played on the playground. 

A big, Buddy Bison thank you to Caesar’s and all the HERO volunteers for making these two trips possible! 

Special thanks to American Bird Association for donating 30 brand new binoculars which the students used to identify Northern cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches, American kestrels, and much more! 


Washington Youth Garden: All Things Green and Growing

D.C. Buddy Bison students harvested vegetables at the Washington Youth Garden.

I spent a lot of time this spring at the Washington Youth Garden inside the U.S. National Arboretum! I joined students from four D.C. schools: 5th graders from the Jefferson Houston School, 2nd graders from Seaton Elementary, 3rd graders from Neval Thomas Elementary, and 6th graders from Washington School for Girls. It was so much fun getting to see how fast the the garden grows in spring, and I loved getting to help plant, harvest, and taste all the different fruits and veggies.

When I was there, I got to participate in three different lessons. The first topic I learned about was pollinators. Along with the students from the Jefferson Houston School , I learned that a pollinator is an animal that helps move pollen from one plant to another. Without them we wouldn’t get our fruits and veggies. Pollinators can be animals like bees, beetles, hummingbirds, and even bats! One of my favorite parts was getting to see the bee hives and taste fresh honey.

I also explored garden basics with students from Seaton Elementary and Neval Thomas Elementary. We got to help plant seeds, harvest and taste herbs, fruits, and veggies, and water the garden bed. We also learned about composting (turning plant scraps back into soil) and got to hold the special composting worms!  

The last topic I explored this Spring was our local and global food systems, with 6th graders from the Washington School for Girls. We talked about how far some foods travel, and how many people have food or farm related jobs! Think about all the important farmers, truck drivers, chefs, and grocery store employees there are; without them we wouldn’t get dinner! We also talked about local farmers and where we can find farmers markets here in DC. We ended our day harvesting veggies for a great, big salad, and made a homemade dressing to share.