Will Del Giudice, 10, of New London, and Nathan Bin, 10, of New London, compose a picture using empty slide frames before painting during a Junior Ranger Art Camp program at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock on Thursday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lead ranger Marguerite Auger explains a map of the country’s national parks to a group of Junior Rangers at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock on Thursday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lead ranger Marguerite Auger holds up a photograph of George Perkins Marsh, a conservationist who first lived at the land upon which the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park now sits. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — Vermont’s only national park has welcomed in its latest crew of young rangers.
Seven children on Thursday participated in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park’s Junior Ranger Program, a 90-minute National Park Service offering designed to foster enthusiasm and appreciation for national parks in kids ages 12 and younger.
Originally developed by the NPS 30 years ago to teach young park-goers about safety in the outdoors, the program has evolved to incorporate unique themes characteristic of individual parks. It’s now available at all of the nearly 400 national parks in the United States.
The Junior Ranger Program has been offered at MBR since 2000, two years after the park opened to the public following Laurance and Mary Rockefeller’s 1992 donation of its 555 acres to the federal government.
MBR lead ranger Marguerite Auger, who instructed Thursday’s junior ranger outing exploring landscape art, considers it one of the park’s most important programs.
“Ultimately, these are the stewards of our future,” said Auger of the group, which was made up of four girls and three boys and ranged from ages 5-11. “It helps kids respect — and want to protect — special places like what we have here at the park. We hope it helps them be leaders and want to foster stewardship of their natural surroundings.”
Thursday’s art-landscape theme was inspired by the painting collection of Frederick Billings, preserved along the walls of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller brick mansion.
Billings, who lived on site in the mid-to-late 1800s, gathered the first formal collection of paintings devoted to the Hudson River School style of art, a mid-19th century art movement by landscape painters in New York and New England.
Auger began by taking the young rangers along a hilly, woodsy trail, where Billings’ daughter, Elizabeth, planted a fern garden and Mary French Rockefeller later built waterfall gardens. Auger identified several species, including “interrupted ferns,” whose leaves are shriveled along a portion of the stems.
“You might think there’s something wrong with the plant, but that’s actually so other ferns can grow underneath it,” Auger explained. She later pointed to a species with feather-like leaves, called the ostrich fern.
“I think we have those in our backyard,” chimed 7-year-old Alex Mathews, of Bethesda, Md.
Toting a heavy-duty red wagon and a walking staff — the latter carried by 7-year-old volunteer Kaelyn Courtemanche, of White River Junction — the group made its way to the shade of an old maple tree, where Auger produced a map of the U.S. featuring outlines of national parks.
Each of the rangers were given small, laminated copies of paintings depicting scenes from a park, with the title of the park printed on them. They were asked to locate the park on the map by placing their painting over it.
The highly recognizable Grand Canyon was easily located by 10-year-old New London Elementary School fifth-grader Nathan Bin before he helped his friend and classmate, Will Del Giudice, find the elusive Carlsbad Caverns tucked in the southeast corner of New Mexico.
The group later ventured into the mansion, where they were briefed about 1800s property owner George Perkins Marsh, one the U.S.’ original conservationists and author of the classic book Man and Nature, first published in 1864.
“His idea was that in order to protect our civilization, we must protect the earth,” Auger said. “His book came out during the Civil War, and it helped people realize that it’s important to protect the land as much as we use the land.”
The group studied several of Billings’ paintings, including Thomas Cole’s dark rendition of Niagara Falls, featuring stormy clouds and a giant, leafless tree.
Auger pointed to a small human figure standing next to the tree, dwarfed by its surroundings. “Look how small he is,” Auger said. “I think the painter wanted to emphasize the scale of the place and how big the nature is there.”
After viewing and discussing a pair of additional paintings — both featuring mountainous terrain inside California’s Yosemite National Park — the group returned to the outdoors to create their own landscape paintings with watercolors and colored pencils.
Issued empty film-slide cases to “capture” pieces of the landscape by holding them in front of their eyes, the rangers spent the last 30 minutes or so of the class producing their work.
Anna Mathews, 10, drew flowers from a nearby garden, while Bin focused on a large boulder and Del Giudice blended browns and greens to depict a patch of forest.
Courtemanche ventured outside the surrounding landscape, filling the bottom of her page with water, comprised of swirling purples and blues. Above the water was a platform, with Auger and Courtemanche standing and smiling.
“I certainly don’t mind that you drew something we don’t see in front of us,” Auger told Courtemanche while admiring her work. “The whole idea behind this exercise is using your imagination, and that’s what you did.”
Back at the visitors center, each child received a certificate and badge recognizing them as the park’s newest junior rangers.
It’s something Del Giudice, for one, took a lot of pride in. It was the second time visiting Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller for both him and Bin, who went as part of a field trip in second grade.
“It’s great to see things in nature and learn about the trees and the forest,” said Del Giudice, 10. “We don’t want them to all get cut down.”
Next Thursday, MBR’s Junior Ranger Program will hone in on nature photography.
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.