Become a Junior Forest Ranger, Summer Programs at Pactola Visitor Center


For the first time in many years, the Black Hills National Forest is offering Junior Forest Ranger Programs at the Pactola Visitor Center.

The Junior Forest Ranger (JFR) program is an exciting way for young people to explore and learn about the Forest.  The JFR program uses Forest Service science and practices to encourage children 7 through 13 to enjoy and appreciate nature. JFR motivates children to explore the natural and cultural world and embrace their responsibility to it.

“These family friendly programs are perfect for adventurous forest explorers,” said Michele Schleuning, Pactola Visitor Center Information Assistant. “Pack a lunch and plan to spend an educational early Saturday afternoon overlooking the beautiful Pactola Reservoir.”

Each program (see Flyer) is from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. and conducted by visitor center staff and volunteers.

June 10 – (National Get Outdoors Day) Sensing the Forest: There are many ways to learn about the forest using all our senses. Join Forest staff for a fun experience as we “sense” the outdoors and make nature journals to keep track of your forest experiences throughout the summer.  Did you know … National Get Outdoors Day, held each year on the second Saturday in June, is a nationwide event coordinated by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable and the US Forest Service.

July 15 – Animal Outhouses: Scientists oftenlearn about wildlife by looking at their droppings? Dissecting owl pellets is a fun and interesting way to learn about food chains, habitats, and how scientists collect and use data. Bring your little Forest Rangers to the visitor center for a fun story and then explore an owl pellet like a wildlife biologist.

August 5 – Fire in Nature: Learning to be fire-aware to prevent wildfires is an important part of keeping the forest safe. Did you know that the Forest Service also uses fire as a way to keep the forest healthy? Spend a Saturday afternoon at the visitor center and learn how fires are used for various management activities … and also learn how to help prevent forest fires.  Participants will also receive Smokey Bear swag.

August 19 – (National Track Trails Day) Animal Hide and Seek:  Animals have many ways to disguise themselves. This makes them very good at being able to play hide and seek. Join Forest staff to learn how and why animals use camouflage, then take part in making your own camouflage vest.

The Forest continues to work with a group of volunteers and partners in 2023 to create a Junior Forest Ranger Program specific for the Black Hills National Forest. Using funding assistance from our cooperative partner, Black Hills Parks & Forests Association, and the design talents of our educational volunteers, the project is geared toward the development of a multi-page activity booklet and specially designed badge. The summer programs are helping the Forest learn more about participant (and parent) expectations.

NOTE: The Pactola Visitor Center is located along Hwy 385, about 14 miles north of Hill City, SD near the Pactola Reservoir. The facility opens for the season on Friday, May 26 and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit  For additional programming information on the Forest, please visit