I got our Junior Ranger Badge books from an older ranger. He clearly loved the Civil War and he began telling me about many things, while the children ran around this smaller Ranger Station. Wild Thing in particular seemed bent on destruction, so my patient husband chased him, while the other kids stamped their passports. My new ranger friend began to tell me all about the park, specifically Storer College. He mentioned Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois and seemed quite surprised that I knew of them. He continued on chatting with me for about 15 minutes and it was interesting and casual, but at one point I was afraid it was going to take a turn when General Lee came up. But he said something that basically went like this “This in no way justifies slavery which is a horror and a blight on our history, but Robert E. Lee was a man caught by history, and genuinely believed in a stronger states rights position.” To which I said something like “Yeah, it’s unfortunate that it was the States’ position that you could own people.” And he said “Yes, I was definitely brought up respecting Lee, but one can never lose perspective of the absolute necessity of the Civil War and what it meant to chose the wrong side of history.” So that was a delightful turn to what was almost an awkward conversation in front of the kids.
The Harpers Ferry Badge is actually 3 levels, with all activities labled A, J or M. The A level activities gets you Apprentice badge, the J gest you the Journeyman and the M gets you the Master Level badge. Here’s the catch. If you complete the entire book you get ALL THREE BADGES. My children immediately committed to doing the entire book. The book is laid out very well, in that each activity tells you where you need to go so they are labeled Industry Museum, or John Brown Exhibit. We decided to start at the Point for a couple of reason. Firstly Lemon started freaking out because she wanted to do the entire book and was afraid she couldn’t, so the drawing activity seemed a solid choice. Secondly, being from Pittsburgh we are kind of suckers for any Confluence. Unlike our confluence this was only two rivers, the Shenandoah meeting the Potomac and it was much smaller, but there was still a bridge!
It was gorgeous out. There were Canadian Geese swimming and clear benches that allowed us to sit and work in the crisp air. Wild Thing and Dad immediately made for the neat railroad bridge, while we worked. The ice in the river was amazing. Once we finished the activities associated with the point and we began to walk the bridge as well. As we were crossing the bridge a majestic beautiful blue heron flew below us and landed on the island. Also the Appalachian trail crosses the bridge and into Harpers Ferry here as well. There is a Trail visitors center nearby, and another badge, but we skipped it this go ’round.
Can you see the Heron to the left of the tall grass?? While the day was comfortably cold, we had been outside for quite awhile doing the activities, crossing the train bridge and heading back towards town. We looked up a different avenue and realized there were food establishments that were open. Some of the historic buildings had been at least semi-modernized for food service! Because my children are coat averse this was a welcome stop, even more welcome when the sign outside proclaimed “Coffee, Hot Chocolate, Hot Toddy.” We quickly ordered Hot drinks and appetizers, definitely at tourist prices, but it was worth it to sit in the warmth while the kids worked on more activities, like the word search and cross-word puzzle. Wild Thing was cold, so he crawled inside my shirt and literally fell asleep. Lemon and Ranger worked through the entire nap on their books with no breaks. It is a special kind of hell when your 6 year old emerging reader insists on working a crossword puzzle. We stayed for a solid 90 minutes, but then they got a little crowded so guilt drove us out. We headed across the street to the train depot, also heated with benches. It is very like the train depot I saw in downtown Gettysburg a few years back. There were also great bathrooms here and a baby changing station. I was able to pull out the map and identify the last few buildings we would need to visit to complete our badges. This really should have been done first, but this whole trip was “seat of your pants!”
The last exhibits we visited that day were African American History, Storer College, John Brown, and The Battle of 1862. All four in separate buildings as all the exhibits are. There is a ton of walking in Harpers Ferry, and if you take the shuttle you would only have room for an umbrella stroller. I *thought* I had a baby carrier in the car but I had taken it out at the hotel, UGH. So we spent a lot of time chasing a toddler who kept yelling “No ME WAHLK” as he practically stumbled into streets in front of cars. As I am the primary instructor for the kids my husband let me spend most of my time guiding the older two while he chased Wild Thing. But life would have been easier with a decent stroller. We did peek into the period Watch shop and the baker/confectioners shop, but they were much like the haberdashery and only displays.
We finished the day at the Ranger station in the village, where Lemon tried to complete the last M activity which was to draw a picture of a place that is a park or should be park and explain why. Instead she drew some trees and when I tried to get her to explain it she just cried hysterically. Because this book was FIVE AND A HALF SOLID HOURS OF WORK. To complete the entire thing, all levels for 3 badges. The Ranger took pity on her and looked at her impressively completed book for a non-independent reader and swore them both in (THANK YOU, KIND RANGER). We will definitely come here again. In the summer they run programs in the industry shops, so there is a blacksmith and candy making in the appropriate shops. And they have days where they populate the village in historical recreations, complete with costumed actors/historians. The schedule comes out in March each year and is available online. This is definitely a high traffic park, and I am glad we came at this time of year, when it was empty. This was an excellent introduction to MANY THINGS and a great tie in to other parks we have done. Also they still have the Civil War to Civil Rights trading cards at this location as well if you are collecting them, I bet you could guess that we are.