Last summer as a caretaker at Stratton Pond I noticed lots of kids and families used the four-mile, relatively flat hike to the pond for first-time backpacks. They often arrived early in the day, with plenty of time for exploring, swimming, building fires, and enjoying unstructured play.
I thought, why not create a fun, educational and low-impact nature activity for these kids? So the Junior Caretaker workbook was born, inspired partly by the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program. The 14-page book [some pages have been removed for the online version, so there are eight pages of original activities] teaches Leave No Trail principles and the ecology of the Long Trail, and enables each child to add their own flair to the book. As of mid-August, I’ve already inducted 15 junior caretakers who will carry knowledge of stewarding the Long Trail through their (hopefully long) hiking careers!
How We Made the Junior Caretaker Workbook
During two weeks of field staff training in early June, at least six caretakers and trail crew members made the booklet a reality, using pens and paper on the porch of the Back Forty, our off-duty housing facility in Waterbury Center. The pages we brainstormed included:
- “Seek-and-Find” examples of Leave No Trace principles, featuring a detailed campsite drawing by Atlas Cooper.
- A Campsite Scavenger Hunt by Emma Sekercan.
- A Q&A on backcountry privies by Anya Steele.
- A beautiful watercolor painting of a loon on a pond, by Emily Hollander.
Our prototype complete, Emma, Anya and I wrestled with the GMC copier until we had a few dozen workbooks for our sites. We enjoyed bonding with fellow field staffers while combining creative styles, and shared an experience despite our postings at different sites on different schedules.
Introducing Caretaking Principles to Hiking Kids
Northern and southern caretakers often keep in touch during the season by sending handwritten letters along the trail via thru-hikers. We sometimes shared stories of our latest Junior Caretaker graduates among other tales of life in the woods.
As I worked with kids this summer, I received positive reviews of the book from parents and children alike. I awarded a prize when a child completed the activity book, and paged through it with them, discussing animal tracks they matched and the trail tool they designed, and answering questions about privies and the Long Trail. We talked about their favorite pages and what they thought about backpacking.
The Junior Caretaker book was a great way to open conversations with shy children as they showed off their work, and the book explained caretaking principles in a fun and fresh way. “Education is the number one way to create the next generation of stewards,” observed Brian Lamoureux, the southern lead caretaker. “These booklets provide kids with an avenue to learn independently or with their parents.”
Try it Yourself!
Download a digital copy of the Junior Caretaker workbook here, and take it on your next hike on the Long Trail System!
This post was written by Eva Gerstle, 2021 and 2022 Caretaker, and first appeared in the Fall 2022 Long Trail News. Some pages of this workbook have been removed to allow for free downloading.