AP NEWS

National parks ‘throwing open the doors’ with activities April 20-28

April 21, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — National Park Week is April 20-28 and is a time to celebrate the beauty of America and a time to enjoy what is being preserved for future generations. Parks across the nation will be hosting events during the week that are nationwide as well as ones with local flavor.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Acting Superintendent AJ Legault said National Park Week is a way for the park system to “throw open the doors” to open the 2019 season. Legault is a big supporter of the week each year and looks forward to seeing the visitors who come to the park.

“The national parks, monuments and battlefields belong to all of us and the history contained within also belongs to all of us,” Legault said. “These are your parks and ultimately, we work for you.”

Legault encouraged everyone to visit a national park site and attain a greater knowledge of their stories. Legault will host B.A.R.K. Ranger Day on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Common Grounds Dog Park on U Street in Gering.

“When people come in and tell us their children want to be a junior ranger, it’s a good way for us to teach kids to be good stewards of the park,” Legault said. “With the B.A.R.K. ranger program, it’s the exact same thing.”

B.A.R.K. stands for (B)ag your pet’s waste, (A)lways wear a leash, (R)espect wildlife, (K)now where you can go. Sometimes, when pets visit a new place, they can be overstimulated and forget how to behave. At a national park, pets and their owners can learn how to have a positive experience in unfamiliar environments.

“This is a way to have a training session with owners and pets where the owner learns what is expected,” Legault said. “It’s also a recognition to the owners that we value their pets and their safety.”

By learning the B.A.R.K. principles, dogs and their owners can have a safe and fun visit anytime they visit a national park.

“We want people to know that they are welcome to visit national parks and this is how you and your dogs can be fantastic stewards of our parks,” Legault said. “This is a fantastic program that recognizes people and their pets.”

Dogs who complete the program will get a card with their name on it that identifies themselves as a B.A.R.K. ranger. Owners complete a three-page activity booklet and the dog completes a few simple tasks in order to earn their badge. A swearing-in ceremony will be held.

The National Park Service is asking anyone who attends the event at the dog park to bring in donation items for the Panhandle Humane Society (bleach, dishwashing liquid, toys, etc.). Locally, Agate is working on getting sponsorships in the hopes of purchasing B.A.R.K. ranger bandannas for those who complete the program. Currently, if an owner would like something more, the Oregon Trail Museum at Scotts Bluff National Monument and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument has dog tags for $4.95. Entrance fees to all parks are waived Saturday, April 20.

Fort Laramie National Historic Site Park Ranger Eric Valencia said it is always an honor to be highlighted for the mission of the National Park Service and their programs, many of which run throughout the year.

“It’s a real pleasure that folks acknowledge what we do every day,” Valencia said.

Fort Laramie has one unique program they will be highlighting. Each NPS site has a junior ranger program, but for the past 10 years, Fort Laramie and Guernsey State Park have worked in conjunction to make their junior ranger programs better.

“If you earn a badge from each park, you will earn a challenge coin,” Valencia said.

Valencia said National Park Week is also a great opportunity to help fulfill the NPS mission of education and conservation.

Fort Laramie served as a military post and continues to look for ways to recognize the military today. On April 21, visitors can hear several veteran stories.

“We are telling the stories of those that served here and visit the post and the legacy of their units,” Valencia said.

James Hill, acting superintendent for Fort Laramie National Historic Site, said National Park Week allows park employees to step back, think about what they do and shine a light on the important work each National Park Service worker does.

“It gives us time to reflect on the fact that we are dedicated to a mission of protecting and sharing our resources and the stories that come with them,” Hill said.