On a sunny summer day, tucked back in the little amphitheater in Curry Village, there’s a good chance you’ll find a quirky “ranger” captivating an audience of wide-eyed kids with stories of Yosemite.
Ranger Ned is no ordinary ranger – he’s a time traveler, an educator, and a passionate Yosemite guest. Played by different actors over the years, Ranger Ned weaves together Yosemite history, campsite rules, bear safety, and environmental conservation alongside another actor who plays a handful of supporting characters – John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Bob the Bear, to name a few.
“The kids learn so much in such a fun and energetic way,” said KB Mercer, co-owner of Traveling Lantern Theater Company, who created and still runs Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure with her husband, Doren Elias. “It really contributes to their understanding and appreciation of what they see around them in the park during their visit.”
Mercer and Elias visited in 2007 and noticed the park didn’t have any plays specifically for children. After meeting with park staff and partners, they developed a script that has stayed the same since then. Over the years, the play has been performed at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and the amphitheater near Housekeeping Camp, but Curry Village is its primary home. According to Renee Santiago, administrative assistant at Curry Village, it’s a cherished and helpful part of Curry Village’s summer programs.
“I’ve often heard a child reprimanding their parent after the show for improper food storage, saying something like, ‘Mom! We have to get the cooler out of the car so the bears don’t break in,” Santiago said. With over 500 tents and cabins, proper food storage is extremely important at Curry Village.
The program is almost always held outside, which makes the script feel more applicable.
“When ‘John Muir’ is describing a ‘puzzle-piece Ponderosa Pine,’ he can actually run up to a giant Ponderosa and show the audience what it looks like,” Santiago said.
But it’s not all education – it’s fun and engaging and a “labor of love,” Mercer said. “Doren and I want young people to learn to care for the park on a personal level. We do, and we want to pass that magic along.”
Although the script doesn’t change, some guests return year after year. Tricia Guyot and her family visit Yosemite from Southern California each year, and they always attend a Ranger Ned show.
“It has become a huge part of our family’s yearly tradition,” Guyot said. “We’ve come to know and love the fabulous actors who have worked so hard to bring the characters to life.”
The interactive nature of the show gets kids involved – “demonstrating sounds of thunder, galloping onto the stage riding a ‘pony,’ or prancing around like one of the parks’ many mule deer,” Guyot described.
“Theatre is a unique tool for teaching children,” Mercer said. “There is nothing else like it for impacting a young mind.”
In addition to Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure, young visitors to Yosemite can check out our other programs for kids and families. What are your favorite family programs in Yosemite?