Junior Smokejumper Program Offered in West Yellowstone, Montana - a Free Learning Program Just for Kids
Looking for a fun learning experience for kids this summer when visiting Yellowstone Park? The Junior Smokejumper Program, located in West Yellowstone Montana at the west entrance, is offered Monday through Saturday mornings throughout the summer. It’s a 2 ½ hour program just for kids from 6-12 years old and it’s free.
Parents or grandparents should register between 8:30 – 9:00 AM at the Historic Ranger Station, located at the east end of the West Yellowstone, Montana Visitor Center parking lot, just before entering the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Adults are welcome, but not required, to participate.
The Junior Smokejumper program is an action-packed program that introduces topics including:
· Fire Ecology - the science of fire, oxygen and heat and how firefighters work to control fire by removing one of these elements. Discussion touches on forest structure, fire behavior and the positive and negative aspects of fire.
· Jump Suit and Parachutes - an up-close look at the gear used by Smokejumpers. Visitors get to do ground activities jumping from the door of our practice plane and some group game activities with a parachute where they learn to work together as a team.
· Wildland Gear and Cargo - wildland clothing and gear is critical to wildland fire fighting. Learn how heavy the gear is, how cargo drops supply the firefighters and how cleanup and "taking it all out" is a critical part of firefighting.
· Tools and Fire Shelter - the tools and shovels that support the hard work of digging a fire line and the safety aspects of the Fire Shelter. This unit has age-appropriate activities for both older and younger youth and enforces the lessons of the fire ecology lesson about available fuel.
· Physical Fitness - this brisk walk on the woodchip trail perimeter reinforces the importance of physical fitness. This activity moves into exercises to allow youth to demonstrate their level of fitness and shows practice exercises to improve fitness.
· Graduation - participants complete the graduation test as a group and photos are taken to commemorate.
The National Smokejumper Center is a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Montana with 501 c (3) status. The National Smokejumper Center emphasizes the stewardship mission of wild land fire operations and the vital role smokejumpers and other fire fighters play in ecosystem management. It is designed to spark children’s interest in their natural surroundings.
The goal of the NSC is to plant a seed in the minds of young people, their parents and grandparents to promote further learning. They focus on fire ecology because the 1988 fires shaped Yellowstone Park as it exists today.
The National Smokejumper Center began in 2006 when former US Forest Service worker and Smokejumper Barry Hicks and his wife, Linda, began a program to expose kids and their parents to a bit of their natural world. Utilizing an historic log ranger station from the old Madison National Forest as the base, they attracted kids and their parents to the facility with a Junior Smokejumper program, of great interest to young people, and then exposed them to ecological processes, notably the role of fire. They emphasized the point that fire in the forest can be both good and bad - bad, when it threatens people's lives and property, but good when it restores the habitat for wildlife and forests that we value. The program was expanded to include the Junior Smokejumpers, as well as educational courses and hands-on workshops.
This summer, the National Smokejumper Center is also completing a massive project moving a set of four historic ranger buildings to their new location at Dunbar Park on the western border of Yellowstone Park.
The National Smokejumper Center is made up of volunteers from all walks of life, mostly retirees and grandparents. A majority come from careers in natural resource management - smokejumpers, firefighters, foresters and biologists - joined by teachers and business people. Annually, over 36 volunteers contribute approximately 3,200 hours to the center.