Junior Ranger Essay Contest winners

Merrell and the National Park Foundation are proud to announce the winning essays in the third annual Junior Ranger Essay Contest. The contest asked kids ages 9-12 years old to craft an essay of no more than 500 words answering: If you were a National Park Ranger for a day, how would you describe the national parks to someone who’s never been before? Winners were selected based on originality, clarity, and effectiveness of style and organization.


Taking first place and winning a $200 Merrell gift certificate, an Olympus camera, and an America the Beautiful pass to all of America’s recreation lands was 9-year-old Mackenzie Monteith of Colorado. Her essay inspires people to get outside and explore the parks for a real adventure (TVs off please!).


Mackenzie Monteith

“Hello! I will be your Park Ranger today. Turn off that TV and pause that video game and come on a real adventure! If you have never been to a National Park before, come spend a day with me from coast to coast and experience all of your five senses!

Do you smell the sulfur dioxide from the plume of the caldera? I need to post warnings on the air quality to keep visitors lungs healthy at Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. Do you smell those eggs? That’s not the campers at Yellowstone National Park. It is from the geyser basins.

Soon, I have a Junior Ranger class. We are going to smell different pine tree bark to see which one smells most like vanilla. That way, we can learn to use our sense of smell to identify different types of evergreens.

You can use my binoculars to view the ponies as they lay with their new foals in the salt marsh at Assateague Island National Seashore. I will keep track of how many foals are born to each herd this year. See living history at Bents Old Fort. I will put on my buckskins and you can help me use the fur press to package buffalo skins to ship back east. Can you see how many robes I can press into a package?

If you don’t want to see anything, you could travel with me into Mammoth Cave, it is so deep dark, but we will turn on the lights so you can see all the beautiful snowballs! Cover your ears! Ready, set BOOOM!! That was a cannon fire drill at Castillo de San Marcus. You can join me in Colonial Virginia and hear the fife and drum. If you prefer the sounds of nature, I can show you the best spots to listen to the elk bugle and lock horns at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Reach into the saltwater tank and touch the Horseshoe Crabs! Feel the fox, bear, buffalo, rabbit and raccoon pelts. Feel who has the thickest fur and learn about why the trappers and hunters almost made some of these North American animals almost extinct!

Here we are at Jordon Pond House in Acadia NP. We will have tea and popovers and smear them with wild blueberry preserves! You might even be able to taste a wild blueberry, if the bears don’t eat them first! Do you taste the salt on your lips? That is from the sea spray from the great Atlantic Ocean! Thank you for spending your day with me! We went from coast to coast and experienced something for all of our five senses! Tomorrow can be a new adventure anywhere across our nation!”


Ten-year-old Oona Kathryn Bebout from Tennessee takes second place receiving a $100 Merrell gift certificate, an Olympus camera, and an America the Beautiful pass to all of America’s recreation lands. Her essay captures the beauty and history of the parks as places where nature and history are preserved.


Oona Kathryn Bebout

''Miss Ranger Rose,'' a small boy about the age of nine came up to me in a pair of large overalls. ''May I ask you a question?'' he continued.

''Why sure,'' I answered, wondering what type of question a boy at his age would ask. ''This is my first time being to a national park, and I'm wondering what they're for,'' he murmured shyly.

No one had ever asked me that question before, but I had a faint memory of asking my father this exact question a long time ago. Remembering what my father had said, I finally began to answer the boy's question. ''National Parks were made so that places like Yosemite or here in the Grand Canyon won't be ruined by ugly buildings and concrete roads. Also the wild animals get to live a happy life in their own original habitat, without having to risk crossing roads or angry people who put out lethal poison. National Parks also help children like you to learn about the natural world. Don't forget about history! Many National Parks are all about learning of famous people and possibly seeing where they lived."

''There are a lot of National Parks and all of them are different. Sometimes you can explore an underground cave led by a park ranger like me. Or you could climb trees in a green forest or cool off in a crystal stream. Ulysses S. Grant made Yellowstone, the very first National Park. Since then National Parks have been popping up all over the place. If it weren't for National Parks, we wouldn't have anywhere to go to see how a place on earth was a thousand years ago when our planet was without the footprint of mankind. There are a lot of reasons why the National Parks were made, but the one main reason is for nature and history to be preserved so people can feel the placidness of nature and see into historical peoples’ lives.''

The small boy still stood at the ranger station looking up at me with a look of wonder on his face. After a short pause he cried, ''Thanks!'' and ran off to join his friends, who were crouched at the crackling campfire.


At 10 years old from Missouri, Andrew Bergantz wins third place with an essay that explores the parks as special places that tell about the history of our country and protecting the natural beauty in which we live.


Andrew Bergantz

Imagine yourself inching up to the sky inside an egg-shaped-like structure. You hop out and gaze at the view of the muddy Mississippi, the giant skyscrapers, and tiny cars that look like ants. You are at the St. Louis Arch.

Now imagine that you are a colonial soldier training to fight the British in the Revolutionary War. You are marching with rifles and learning commands like FORWARD, MARCH! and HALT! You are in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Finally, imagine that you are in charge of shooting a giant cannon during the first shots of the Civil War. You are at Ft. Sumter. Independence Hall, Fort Sumter, and the St. Louis Arch are three of the three hundred and ninety-two national parks scattered across our country. National parks are places in the United States that are protected. They can include monuments, buildings, and parks. People of all ages from all over the world can visit our national parks.

They are special places because they tell about the history of our country and the nature that is all around us. There are so many kinds of national parks that they are interesting to everyone. It is important to visit national parks so you can learn about them and how to protect them. I took a ferry ride out to visit Fort Sumter and got to stand by the cannons that were used so long ago in battle. My Cub Scout troop visited the St. Louis Arch. We listened to a park ranger talk about westward expansion and looked at colonial toys and the hide of a buffalo. We compared the lifestyles of the Woodland and the Plains Native Americans. We ended our trip with a tram ride to the top of the Arch.

I have also visited Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I stood by the cracked Liberty Bell. I also stood in the very same room where Benjamin Franklin told the delegates of the Constitution that the sun on George Washington’s chair was rising and not setting. I have visited these three national parks and have learned so much about each of them and about our country. I have also learned that we must all work together to protect national parks. If they are destroyed, then our descendants will know nothing about these special places. I hope that other people will get to learn from and visit at least one national park. Just imagine what you might learn at a national park near you!


Three talented essayists won honorable mentions including: seventh grader Lachlan Bebout who happens to be the brother of the second place winner Oona, sixth grader Caroline Rollins, and seventh grader Felix Wu. All three honorable mention winners will receive America the Beautiful passes.

Hundreds of essays were submitted from youth around the country. The Junior Ranger Essay Contest, which was made possible by generous support from Merrell, is part of the National Park Foundation’s commitment to connect young people to their parks. www.nationalparks.org

Filed under: People & Organizations, Kids


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