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.

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