Saturday, December 22, 2012

Meet Ranger Dave

Today you're hearing from David Sagan, park ranger and visitor services specialist at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
As we thank Mother Nature today for her gift of wonder, we would also like to honor someone who is sharing that gift with many others. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service honors one of its own each year with the “Sense of Wonder” award inspired by conservationist and author Rachel Carson.

This year, David Sagan, park ranger and visitor services specialist at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, represented the Northeast Region as the 2012 regional nominee for the national awards. Today, Dave shares his personal thoughts about the excitement and passion he sees in the young people and families that take part in his programs.

It was spring of last year, and I was leading a group of young students from a nearby city along the trail. A young girl stopped suddenly in her tracks. She stood stiff as a board staring at her elbow.


The award celebrates Service employees who have designed, implemented or shown visionary leadership in an interpretive or environmental education program. These exemplary programs help foster a sense of wonder and enhance public stewardship of the wildlife heritage cared for and protected by dedicated Service employees.

Dave’s supervisor, Jon Rosenberg, says that Dave has “exposed refuge visitors to natural ecosystem functions, challenged them to think larger scale about resource protection and created an opportunity to have visitors make emotional and intellectual connections with nature.”

“Dave demonstrated originality, creativity and innovation by asking visitors to engage all their senses, hone their detective skills and harness their power of discovery,” Jon says. “In addition, the project encourages children and families from more urban areas to connect with nature in a safe and welcoming area, providing comfort for individuals who are not used to spending time outdoors in natural areas.” More about Dave.
A small green inchworm that was dangling from a tree overhead has landed on her elbow.

She didn’t scream. She didn’t brush it off. But she stood fascinated while all the other students began asking me questions about the smallest of creatures – one that I take for granted seeing almost every day at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The students’ passion and curiosity, sparked by such a little thing, gave me a new perspective on the experiences that I deem common on the refuge. The moment inspired me to rethink how I lead talks and walks.

A number of those talks and walks are parts of our newest program for the community, “Let’s go Exploring with Ranger Dave.” That’s me, Ranger Dave.

The program is geared toward kids and aims to get them outside and back to nature. Great Swamp is located 26 miles as the crow flies from Time Square in New York City this makes it prime for reaching children from urban communities.

The monthly program helps reconnect children with nature, a personal passion of mine because I feel like the days for the many kids playing outside after school are dwindling. The desire to be outdoors has been with me since a young age, cultivated by mentors. I want to pass that passion to the next generation as inspiration to help protect America’s land and wildlife. One of my favorite things to do is to expose a child to the wonders of the world around them.
A stop on the Nature Trail at Great Swamp refuge. Credit: USFWS.

One of the Ranger Dave programs focused on animal tracks. It was great to see the excitement on kids’ faces when we headed out in the snow to try to find tracks of some of the animals around the refuge. As a small group of us snuck around the woods trying to find evidence that an animal was there, and actually did find some, the kids’ excitement was hard to contain. They wanted to know what it was, where it was going, what it ate, along with many other questions. For me, it is very rewarding to see a child become interested in the outdoors and even more so when you see them come back to the refuge time and time again.

Another one of our recent projects encourages families, youth groups and students to explore the natural environment using all five senses. In partnership with the Friends of Great Swamp refuge, we constructed the Nature Detective Trail, which has 11 stops along the trail that include Eye Spy, Earth Music, BARKing, Bramble Ramble, and Lets Get Nosy (among others). All of these get kids outside with hands-on exploration.

Next time you’re near the city, consider stopping by Great Swamp. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see an inchworm!

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