From Acadia in Maine to Joshua Tree in California and beyond, our country’s national parks hosted 237 million people in 2020.
But despite the continued popularity of these wide-open spaces, there’s one National Park Service offering that remains lesser known.
It’s the Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger program, which offers an oval-shaped patch to Cub Scouts and Scouts who participate in “organized educational activities or volunteer service projects for a minimum of 10 hours at one or more national parks.”
Last year, Cynthia Curley-Obrero, a Webelos den leader from Pack 540 of Atlanta (Atlanta Area Council), was discussing the award with Jake Boling. He’s the park ranger at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia.
“Jake was saying that it really hasn’t been a very active award — maybe due to a lack of exposure,” Cynthia says. “My son, William Kai, was the first to achieve it at our local park service site.”
When you get to know William Kai, you’ll see it’s no surprise that he was the first to earn it at Kennesaw Mountain. After all, William Kai is one of the biggest fans of the national parks that you’ll ever meet.
“I like national parks because they honor historic places and they’re beautiful,” he says. “You can see so much natural beauty and animals and scientific wonders.”
Park Ranger Boling agrees, saying the Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger program is important because it encourages Scouts to protect all that natural beauty for future generations.
“One ongoing issue in many parks is a lack of funding and personnel shortages,” he says. “Many parks depend on volunteers and community service work. By attending educational programs that the parks offer, Scouts are learning more about the resource and will be more likely to be better stewards and set good examples.”
How William Kai earned the award
Because of the pandemic, some of William Kai’s work was completed virtually and approved by the corresponding park service sites.
In person, he visited Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and completed the park’s Junior Ranger program.
He added virtual visits to a range of park service spots, such as Yellowstone National Park, Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
Over Memorial Day weekend 2020, William Kai participated in the National Park Service Virtual Campout put on by Biscayne National Park. In June 2020, he was an active part of the weeklong Junior Ranger Virtual Summer Camp run through Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
Through this mix of in-person and virtual educational activities, William Kai far surpassed the 10-hour minimum required to earn the patch. But more importantly, he developed a deeper affinity for our national parks.
“I won’t ever forget the beauty in our parks,” William Kai says. “I think I have a passion for it because it’s fun to go places and learn.”
Speaking of going places, William Kai hopes to make in-person treks to more park service locations soon.
“I don’t know which one I want to go to next because there are so many to choose from,” he says. “Alaska would be interesting because I could learn about the indigenous cultures and how nature is different from the lower United States. And I want to see glaciers.”
A little help from Mom
William Kai joined Scouting in 2018 as a Tiger. He fell in love with the outdoor activities and what he was learning in den meetings, especially hands-on activities based on animals, nature and science.
William Kai’s mom knew that the park service and its many sites — and websites — would complement her son’s interests perfectly.
“Having taken a monthlong road trip west to camp and hike in national parks when I was in my twenties, I knew the magic the parks had to offer,” Cynthia says. “I saw a landscape so different from my expectations that demonstrated the beauty of the geology in the United States, watched animals in their natural habitat, marveled at the ruins and art of earlier civilizations, saw so many stars in the sky — all those experiences were more powerful than the normalcy of any other given day.”
Wanting to provide those kinds of memories for her son, Cynthia introduced William Kai to the Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger Award.
“The award creates direct contact with what the NPS has to offer, which in turn teaches why it’s so important for us to continue supporting the parks,” Cynthia says. “The NPS supports so much that Scouting encourages — an appreciation for our community, large and small. It’s a perfect complement to Scouting.”