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News / Life / Clark County Life

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site fosters next generation

Its new Junior Ranger program aims to teach kids about local history, nurture community

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 13, 2023, 6:07am
7 Photos
Park guide Sarah Weber has a group of Bike Clark County campers take the junior ranger oath Tuesday at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Park guide Sarah Weber has a group of Bike Clark County campers take the junior ranger oath Tuesday at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For years, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has highlighted the cultural, historical and archaeological stories of Washington. This summer, it is reaching out to a new generation to shape the future of park stewardship.

The Junior Ranger program, a new activity promoting park education, invites kids of all ages to participate this summer. Through a series of park-related activities, kids can learn about the history of the land and become a junior ranger.

Additionally, the Look for the Helpers exhibit will offer children and their families a chance to learn about park history and sustainability. Both will be available until Aug. 30; the program is free with admission to the park.

“We have thousands of national and international visitors that come through here,” Superintendent Tracy Fortmann said. “The history here is quite vast, so to be able to connect with so many different people about our history is powerful.”

Visitors interested in the Junior Ranger program can pick up their checklist of activities at the Fort Vancouver Contact Station. Once the checklist is completed, kids take the Junior Ranger pledge and receive a badge. Fort Vancouver hopes to continue the program annually.

Located along the trails of Fort Vancouver, Look for the Helpers includes panels that highlight those who have contributed to the cultural and historical preservation of Fort Vancouver and its resources.

One side of the panel details someone in the past or present who forged park stewardship. On the other side are ways visitors can do the same.

“The idea came from looking at previous exhibits that tied into something bigger,” said park guide Sarah Weber. “That’s exactly what Look for the Helpers is meant for: caring about the land we are all on and looking for ways that we can give back as a community.”

Fort Vancouver’s dance circle is another one of the activities added this summer. Outside of the Visitor’s Center, guests of all ages can dance with each other throughout the day.

“We started the dance circle this summer,” said Fortmann. “We wanted a fun activity for connecting with the community and beating isolation.”

Summers are some of the busiest times at Fort Vancouver. According to Fortmann, the park sees upwards of 300,000 visitors throughout the season. With these new activities, Fort Vancouver hopes to continue fostering a sense of community.

“There are so many different layers of history here,” said Weber. “We’re getting so much positive feedback and that is what’s very moving to me, knowing I’m making a difference.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.