Our story: Becoming a National Park Service Junior Ranger

Dunbar sign

At the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, classmate of Orville Wright and renowned poet, in Dayton, Ohio

Here are some photos from our 2016 Spring Break trip and how Juliet and James became Junior Rangers many times over. 

Those who have read previous posts know that my son, James, received a National Park Service Passport last Fall. He now wants to get as many stamps as possible. To that end, our family set off for the Greater Cincinnati area where he could get several stamps.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site

Taft Sign

As James’ hair evinces, it was blustery when we visited.

Our first stop was William Howard Taft’s Boyhood Home in the Mount Auburn Historic District of Cincinnati. Taft holds the distinction of being the only President to also preside as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, his legacy is tainted by his siding with Justice Holmes in the execrable Buck v. Bell case upholding a state’s ability to forcibly sterilize the “feeble-minded.”

Taft Swearing InI wonder what Taft would’ve thought if he had heard Juliet asking good questions of Ranger Paula during the tour of the House. The National Park Service has a Junior Ranger program, where kids complete workbooks at each site and receive certificates and badges. Juliet completed her workbook, as did James, with each receiving their rewards for a job well done. I wonder if Taft would’ve reconsidered keeping Holmes’ bigoted epithet of “three generations of imbeciles are enough” in the opinion.

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopewell Culture Sign

The Hopewell Culture is the name given to a civilization of Native Americans who lived in the Scioto River Valley region of South Central Ohio at the time Christ walked in Jerusalem. This civilization literally left their mark on the area by constructing large earthen mounds enclosed within raised earthen walls that were laid out in precise geometric symbols. Imagine crop circles but the shapes being outlined by the raised earth. Here’s the largest mound we visited at Seip Earthworks:

Seip Earthworks

Hopewell Culture Swearing In

J&J completing their workbooks with Ranger Neesa

These mounds were covered over burial and cremation sites with pipes, bowls, and other personal items buried within them. But, visiting the site, you learn that most of the mounds have had to be reconstructed due to being plowed down for farming, or, at the main site, razed to make room for temporary barracks during World War I. So, the U.S. Government first paid to tear the mounds down and then, when more enlightened advocates objected, then paid to reconstruct them and will pay to preserve them as a National Historical Park.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Dayton Aviation Heritage Sign

Our last stop was the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. This NHP had several sites of significance for Orville & Wilbur Wright–the pioneers of powered flight.

J&J taking the Junior Ranger oath as administered by Ranger Barb

J&J taking the Junior Ranger oath as administered by Ranger Barb

In the photo above, the kids are in front of the visitors center which is across from one of the Wright Brothers’ bike shops. Being a veteran of the United States Air Force, I was glad to share this introduction to the history of flight with my kids. Because there were a number of sites to visit, the kids received not one but two badges, and more.

Dayton Huffman Prairie Sign

The site above is at the first air terminal, which has been converted into an interpretive center. The Wright Brothers are best known for their maiden flight at Kitty Hawk on the outer banks of North Carolina. But it was in Huffman Prairie that they mastered powered flight and how to pilot an airplane.

Having visited the requisite number of sites, the kids were rewarded with not just badges, but their own “WilBear.” Pictured below is the moment of joy upon receiving this prize from Ranger Marianne.

Dayton Huffman Prairie Wilbear

A Vision of a Life with Down syndrome

Now, why am I sharing all of this on a blog devoted to prenatal testing and Down syndrome. No, I am not receiving any commission from the Ohio Board of Tourism or the National Park Service. And, yes, I may be hoping that because my kids are cute and James has amazing hair, that alone may drive views of this post alone.

But, in truth, I am sharing all of this because just maybe there is a mom, or a dad, or an obstetrician, or a politician who may wonder what a life with Down syndrome can be like. I am not holding Juliet up as a representative of all who have an extra 21st Chromosome. I’m simply sharing what a Spring Break trip was like for one girl who happens to have Down syndrome:

  • She rode in a car for hours and did not have to be scolded to behave (though she was asked to stop singing Taylor Swift songs, even when they weren’t on the radio).
  • She toured historical sites, what most children may consider the height of boredom, and asked interesting questions of the tour guides.
  • She walked literal miles when all of the sites are added up.
  • She read the multitude of captions in the multitude of exhibits.
  • Then she would write the correct answer down in her Junior Workbook, sometimes with the help of a parent or a ranger, but so, too, did her brother.
  • She listened and repeated the Junior Ranger oath.
  • She talked at dinner and on the car rides between locations about what her favorite things were about each park.

And reading all of that, just maybe those parents or that doctor may have a fuller picture of what having a child with Down syndrome can be like.


  1. Glenn Goodman says:

    Thank you


  1. […] is a collage of the presidential-related sites in Ohio we’ve visited: the home of James A. Garfield before he became the 20th President; the burial site of President […]

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