Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge kicks off summer with the “Junior Rangers” program

It might still be technically spring for a few more weeks, but for all intents and purposes, summer has arrived in Kodiak. And with it, weekly activities for kids hosted by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

7-year-old Harper shows off her new Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Junior Ranger badge and certificate. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

On Thursday, Ranger Ayisha Jaffer welcomed a small group of kids to the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center for her first educational event of the season. This one was called “Become a Junior Ranger.”

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge spans almost 2 million acres across the Kodiak Archipelago. That area, which is larger than the state of Delaware, is home to all five species of Pacific salmon as well the a population of over 3,000 Kodiak brown bears. But with no road access to the refuge, it’s also very remote.

“This is our way of bringing the Refuge to town,” Jaffer says, “since it is kind of inaccessible other than by boat or flight.

After introductions, Jaffer had the kids exercise their inner rangers with a field observation activity. Gathered around an array of preserved animal specimens, she asked each child to pick one and describe it in their field notes. She threw out suggestions like, “What does it look like, what is its color, does it smell, does it have a feel?”

An inquisitive nine-year-old named Matthew picked out the preserved skeleton of a little brown bat.

“I’ve noticed that wing-to-wing, it is 9 feet,” he said. It might seem that way to a kid, but it looked a little more like 9 inches. Matthew continued, “the bat is also very fluffy and smooth. From head to feet it is almost 4 inches … I’ve also noticed bats are very cute!”

Later on, the kids got to wander around the visitor center, which is more like a mini-museum about the refuge, to fill out a scavenger hunt in their activity books.

Each child seemed genuinely curious about the exhibits, pushing buttons to hear native bird calls, and pressing their ears against a replica hibernating bear to listen to its “heartbeat.” This kind of curiosity is what Jaffer is hoping to instill in the kids that come through the center this summer.

Ranger Ayisha Jaffer leads a “Become a Junior Ranger” program at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

“I think that a lot of kids like being outside and running around. That was my youth,” she says. “I want to just conserve even that ideal, that there are things that we can do with our hands and our feet, and there’s all these cool species out here to protect and ways of recreation that are different. I just want to continue to infuse excitement about wildlife and real life and getting out there.“

At the end of the program, each child took a pledge to protect the lands and share what they’ve learned with others. “Here’s your official junior ranger badge!” Jaffer congratulated a little girl, handing her a brown patch with the words “Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Junior Ranger” around an emblem of a Kodiak bear. “Now you can range with us for the rest of the season!”

Jaffer will be hosting more activities this summer on topics like fox communication, native mammals, and natural navigation techniques — every Thursday at the visitor center downtown.

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