During summer 2014, through a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), Environmental Learning For Kids (ELK, an urban nonprofit organization), and Denver Parks & Recreation (DPR), the Urban Ranger program outreached to and provided educational, professional development, and employment opportunities to underserved and underrepresented youth from the Denver metropolitan area. In its 2nd year, the Urban Ranger program provided summer employment opportunities to seven urban youth and educational experiences for over 3,500 community youth. The Urban Rangers played an important role in helping the NPS, ELK, and DPR fulfill their missions to reach out and inform urban communities about what all three organizations have to offer. Through training administered by NPS Rangers, ELK staff, and DPR staff the Urban Rangers crew were able to work as educational facilitators and ambassadors on behalf of all three agencies throughout their urban communities.
From early June to late August, 2014 the Urban Rangers conducted workshops in urban communities to teach diverse youth about how they can explore, learn about, and protect our National Parks, about opportunities in science and natural resources careers, and about aquatic ecosystems and fish ecology. Following the education portion of each workshop, youth participated in a Junior Urban Ranger program facilitated by the Urban Rangers and were then sworn in as a Junior Urban Ranger and received Junior Urban Ranger badges. In addition, through the partnership with Denver Parks and Rec each child involved received a free fishing rod and reel to encourage them to get outside again. In 2014 the Urban Rangers provided educational workshops to 2,300 youth from the Denver Metro area, in addition, the Urban Rangers led educational outreach events to 1,500 youth and families in the Denver Metro Area.
Although Colorado has 13 National Parks, very few urban youth have experienced what these parks have to offer. For a 2nd year in a row the Urban Ranger Program reached thousands of youth throughout urban Denver. The Urban Rangers helped to foster a lifelong connection between urban youth and National Parks by teaching them about wildlife conservation, preservation, park trails, waterways, fishing and other outdoor experiences and swearing them in as Junior Urban Rangers.
This program also allowed the Urban Rangers the opportunity to gain knowledge and hands on experience about the National Parks though their training. This in turn gave the Urban Rangers an opportunity to be mentors to other youth by bringing what they’ve learned back to their community. They gained valuable work experience that will prepare them for the various career fields within the National Park Service and other natural resource agencies.
The program was once again highly successful at promoting innovation and creativity through the unique pathway of urban youth employment. The Urban Rangers succeeded in bringing new, young, urban, and diverse perspectives to the National Park Service. Through the work of the Urban Rangers, the National Park Service reached a variety of new audiences that traditionally do not have access to NPS exposure. On a daily and a peer-to-peer basis the Urban Rangers helped other urban youth make personal connections to Parks through facilitation of the Junior Urban Ranger program. The program also helped connect urban communities to parks, trails, waterways, and community green spaces close to home.
As illustrated by end of summer program evaluation results, the majority of Urban Ranger youth indicated a very positive and impactful experience through participation in the program. Youth indicate that they felt supported by staff in participating agencies, that they learned new and useful information through participation in the program, that they believe their work over the course of the summer will inspire other kids to get outside more and enjoy nature, and that given the option they would return for another season working as an Urban Ranger. Surveys indicate that Urban Rangers would like more training in order to better teach other youth about the National Park System and would benefit from learning more strategies to actively engage kids in the lessons they are teaching.