Learning about the outdoors

Did you know that a skunk can spray its smelly funk up to 12 feet? Or that a sea cucumber can deter its predators by jettisoning its internal organs out of its body?

The Junior Ranger program at Crystal Cove State Park has returned for it's second season, to provide youngsters with fun-filled facts like these and more, with a disgustingly fun introduction to our local ecology.

Aimed at children ages 7 to 12, the program meets biweekly throughout the summer and will focus on a variety of topics including bones, guts, wacky animal adaptations, and ocean acidification.

Co-hosted by California State Park Rangers Winter Bonnin and Jennifer Langer, the hourlong meetings will also educate kids and their parents about tidepools, animal and human interaction and will try to foster admiration and appreciation for the environment.

"Our goal is to get our kids into the parks and really learn about the resources," Bonnin said. "I want people to respect and appreciate the natural world, so they won't be afraid of it."

Junior rangers who attended Tuesday's "Bones" session learned about the five families of vertebrates — mammals, fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians — and got to check out deer and mountain lion skulls, fish and shark bones and toad and snake skeletons, among other cool animal remains.

They also learned about metamorphosis and predators versus prey, and even got to see the remains of an owl's dinner, which can be found in the owl's pellet.

Bonnin said she plans to host the "Bones" themed class a second time, since the first meeting attracted only a few participants and word about the program is just spreading.

Other fun themes to look forward to will be "Oh Yuck," which will feature the unusually "weird and stinky" adaptations that animals use to protect themselves and "Soda Pop Science," which will explain the decrease in pH of our oceans caused by carbon dioxide, which is referred to as ocean acidification.

Each junior ranger will receive a book, which park rangers will stamp at the end of each session they attend. Books can be used at any of the State Park Junior Ranger meetings. Dedicated little rangers can earn themselves a badge and a certificate.

Meetings are at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Pelican Point, Lot No. 4. Participation is free, but there is a $15 all-day parking fee.

"Families can pack a lunch, stay the day and make their summer beach day an educational experience as well," Bonnin said. "The program really is for the whole family."


WHAT: Junior Ranger Program

WHO: Kids 7 to 12 and their families

WHEN: 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday

WHERE: Meet at Pelican Point lot No. 4 (Newport Coast entrance on Coast Highway, left at kiosk to the end)

COST: Program is free. $15 day-use parking fee

INFORMATION: Call (949) 494-3539 or visit http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com

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