Marie Young, 12, came to the Waco Mammoth National Monument last summer and was disappointed. The new national park did not yet have a Junior Ranger Program.
Marie has earned 59 junior ranger badges — pins or sew-on badges that children can receive by learning about national parks either at the parks or by studying about them remotely. Marie wanted to earn a junior ranger badge at the park about 100 miles from her Pflugerville home. And she fell in love with the park.
“I thought it was really interesting,” she says. “There’s not a lot of paleontology parks in Texas,” she says.
The park is the site of fossils from at least 19 Columbian mammoths (which were larger and less hairy than the woolly kind) a juvenile saber-toothed cat tooth, a Western camel, a dwarf antelope, a giant tortoise and an American alligator.
The first fossils were discovered in 1978, and Baylor University, the City of Waco Parks and Recreation, and the Waco Mammoth Foundation ran the site until last year, but are still are involved in the site. Some of the fossils discovered are housed at Mayborn Museum Complex in Waco.
Marie decided to do something about Waco Mammoth not having a junior ranger booklet. She created one with the help of Dava Butler, who runs the education department at the monument.
Marie’s work earned her the Girl Scout Silver Award, a service award girls in middle school can earn for doing a project that makes a lasting impact on their community. In April, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to have National Parks Service Director Jonathan Jarvis pin her silver award on her Girl Scout vest.
The new Junior Range book at Waco Mammoth has 14 activities that follow the life of Wanda, the name of Mammoth W, one of the mammoths found at the park, and Barry, the saber-tooth cat. (Marie named the cat Barry after President Barack Obama, who made the monument a national park.)
To earn the junior ranger badge, you have to complete five activities if you’re ages 5-8, seven activities if you’re ages 9-12 and 10 activities if you’re 13 and older. Activities include a scavenger hunt, talking to a ranger, answering questions about Columbian mammoths, a word find, a crossword puzzle, a circle what doesn’t belong, and a senses hike. There’s also a bonus activity that takes you to the nearby Mayborn Museum Complex.
Marie got her ideas of what to include from other junior ranger books she’s done, and she wanted to be sure to include options, so if kids weren’t interested in one activity, they wouldn’t have to do it to earn the badge.
Marie tested out the junior ranger badge book at the Mammoths on the March event in March, in which she got to swear in fellow junior rangers. She continues to volunteer at the monument and spread the word about Texas’ newest park. She even represented Waco Mammoth at an event this month at the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum in Dallas. There she met first lady Laura Bush, who was launching “Our Great Big Back Yard,” a book she wrote with daughter Jenna Bush, which celebrates the centennial of the National Parks Service.
Parks throught the country will be hosting centennial events this year and this is a perfect year to start earning junior ranger badges. Texas has 14 pational parks, including the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, and Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi. There’s even a Cennential junior ranger
badge.Marie isn’t done with creating junior ranger badge books. She is talking with staff at El Camino Real National Historic Trail, which stretches from New Mexico to Louisiana, and with staff at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, which was the home to the National Woman’s Party and became a national park in April, about creating their books.
Marie didn’t start doing junior ranger badges until two years ago when her family went to Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. She’s now completed junior ranger badges from California to Washington, D.C. Her family has made this a quest as well. In April, when Marie visited Washington, D.C. she went from national monuments to historic parks and everywhere in between, wearing her junior ranger vest and her ranger hat. She became known among the rangers, who rotate through the Washington, D.C., parks as that girl with the hat, a hat she got at Carlsbad Caverns, N.M., and has never found another one like it since.
Her favorite junior ranger badges, besides of course the one she created for Waco Mammoth, are Ford’s Theater, where she got to hear about Shakespeare plays as well as become a detective and follow the trail of President Abraham Lincoln assassi, John Wilkes Booth, and Paleontology, a badge that you can earn at parks that have paleontological sites. “It got me wanting to be a junior ranger and a ranger when I grow up and a paleontologists,” she says.
Kids to Park day at Waco Mammoth National Monument
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive, Waco