Park Rangers May Have New Role as Public Health Officials

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There may be a new role for America’s park rangers in the near future: public health educator.

According to a press release by the National Park Service, a recent project tested the viability of using national parks as settings for educating hunting, fishing and outdoor enthusiasts on important national health issues.

The project, called Public Health in the Parks, provides initiative-funded outreach programs to different national parks throughout the country. In 2007, the US National Park Service awarded one-time grants of $10,000 or less to 16 parks in 16 different states. According to the project developers, the results have been more than favorable.

The Public Health in the Parks programs cover a vast array of health-related issues, such as a 74-mile “virtual walk” of the Badlands National Park by Native American children, and an informational program explaining the historical effects of typhoid to visitors at Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts.

The program was started by David Wong and Charles L. Higgins of the National Park Service. Both Wong and Higgins believe that park rangers have the opportunity to educate visitors not only about the parks themselves but also infectious diseases and the importance of healthy lifestyle choices.

Further exploration of national parks as nontraditional and underutilized venues for health education is warranted,” Wong and Higgins conclude in their report. “Most programs were supported by park management and were well received by visitors. National parks and similar settings may be underutilized resources for delivering health messages to the general population.”

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