LAKE JAMES, Ind. (AP) - A youth ambassador to Pokagon State Park has made an impact.
Kristie Ridgway, who graduated in December from Ball State University with a degree in biology, has been serving as a youth ambassador to the park since late last year. She blogs about her experiences here.
Her favorite Indiana State Park is Ouabache State Park, but she said she has a great appreciation for all the state parks, which she camped in with her mother as a child. Ridgway said Pokagon has "tremendous interpretive programming" along with its recreational and natural offerings.
Ridgway is one of eight youth ambassadors to Indiana's parks — a youth-led, national movement to foster an appreciation of the outdoors in other young adults.
"This is the first year for the program in Indiana and it is going great," Jody Heaston, volunteer coordinator for the DNR Division of State Parks and Reservoirs, told The Herald Republican. "The ambassadors have done a wonderful job highlighting several of the state parks and reservoirs."
The goals of Indiana's youth ambassadors are to visit all 32 Indiana state parks and reservoirs and to help tell each property's story.
"We have some talented writers and photographers posting wonderful pictures and blogs," said Heaston. "It's great to see these young adults enjoying the properties."
Ridgway's photos document a snowy early spring hike with Pokagon interpretive naturalist Fred Wooley, her first ride on the toboggan and what she has titled an "unexpected rescue."
Late last fall, Ridgway and Patrick McCune were at Pokagon's nature center getting a list of volunteer activities when Wooley received a telephone call from a local real estate agent concerned about three turtles left in a tank in an abandoned house.
"That day, I was searching for an answer, as I think I was working by myself that day and could not get away to go get those turtles," said Wooley.
Ridgway's blog tells of a murky tank and a spiny soft shell turtle already dead. In the turbid water amongst rocks, she and McCune found two red-eared sliders, which they took back to the Pokagon nature center.
"The turtles have happy homes and are educating hundreds of people," said Wooley. The turtles live at Prophetstown and Chain O' Lakes state parks now, where they are introduced to the public by naturalists. Ridgway keeps the story alive through her blog.
"I wanted to become an ambassador because Indiana State Parks have been a huge part of my life since I was very young. I grew up camping with my mom and attended as many interpretive programs as I possibly could," said Ridgway. "Being a part of those programs and learning about Indiana's natural and cultural resources really helped shape my love for the outdoors. Through being an ambassador, I really hope to illustrate how terrific these programs are as well as showcase all of the incredible things each state park has to offer."
Ridgway did the job for an annual state park pass, and was given a camera to take with her to log her experiences.
Among her work at Pokagon, Ridgway supervised the nature center during a triathalon May 18 with another volunteer so naturalist Marjorie Hershman could help with the event at the main beach.
"Throughout the day, I greeted visitors and did my best to answer their questions," Ridgway said. Some of her projects include sorting owl pellets and cleaning animal tanks.
The national state park system plans to expand the ambassador program this summer and fall.
"We plan to recruit 2,000 new ambassadors from across the country," said Dan Braun, the program's national coordinator, based in Wisconsin. Incentives will include prizes like high-end outdoor equipment.
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