The Shawsheen River needs Junior Rangers to help with its care and protection.
Elementary school-aged rangers will learn all about the river, so they can show their friends and families how important the Shawsheen is to our community, and how fun it can be.
They will locate old mills that relied on the river for power, and look for turtles, take hikes and go fishing, among many other activities.
"You can do things like learn to identify poison ivy," said Annie Gilbert, a member of the Shawsheen Greenway. "You make your own fishing rod using natural materials. You mark a place on a map where you skipped rocks along with different ways of interacting with the river, or engaging with the river."
Sign-up has just begun and is free for the first 500 rangers. Those that participate will be eligible for a badge and can attend a special swearing-in ceremony this September with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
"This is based on a program that's run by the National Park Service, and they're run across the country, and are designed to introduce kids to natural resources and the natural world," Gilbert said.
This ranger program was made possible by funds from the 2017 Essex Heritage Partnership Grant Program, which were awarded in May to encourage community engagement with the Shawsheen. The prime Junior Ranger candidates are students in grades three and four, which is when social studies classes focus on Andover.
The program was developed by Andover High School student Kerry Manuel along with other students in an environmental sustainability internship, which was mentored by Steve Golden, chair of the Shawsheen Greenway.
"We worked around town advocating for the Shawsheen Greenway organization, presenting to local representatives, environmental workers, and everyone in between," Manuel said. "While we were presenting to all of these people, it struck us—what about the kids?"
Golden had worked for the National Park Service, and suggested their junior ranger program as a model for engaging families and children.
"I researched, and we both agreed that we wanted to make the Andover program about having fun while getting kids and their families familiar with the river," Manuel said.
Manuel's own experience with the Shawsheen is probably similar to that of many people in town, and has shaped her passion for sharing what she now knows about the river.
"Honestly, I didn't even know how to get to the Shawsheen before participating in the internship course this past fall," Manuel said. "I am so grateful to Steve and the environmental course for educating me on all that Andover has to offer: paddling, fishing, hiking and more. Why leave Andover to do these fun summer activities when they are just waiting for us to do them in our own backyards? I feel like it is my duty to pay it forward now by informing people of my newfound love in Andover."
Children who want to join the Junior Rangers can go to the Andover Recreation Department at town hall to pick up a Ranger Report, or they can email email@example.com. The reports are designed for recording everything they do at the river, and can be turned in at the end of the summer, when the rangers will be eligible for their badges.
Prospective rangers can also get started by attending a pop-up event that Manuel and Golden have organized for Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 10 a.m. at the end of Dale Street. Manuel will also be leading activities throughout the summer, which will be announced through social media and at the Shawsheen Greenway website.
"Otherwise, we hope that families take the first initiative and find their way to a spot on the river and help their kids complete the junior ranger package," Manuel said.