An interview with Education Ranger Vanessa Wiggenraad
Wednesday 9 August, 2023
From educating students to creating inclusive programs for all abilities, Parks Victoria ranger Vanessa Wiggenraad spends her time sharing her passion for nature with others.
Education Ranger Vanessa Wiggenraad with Parks Victoria Junior Rangers. Credit: Parks Victoria
How long have you worked at Parks Victoria?
I’ve worked for Parks Victoria for 12 years, mainly in education and community engagement. Since 2014, I’ve been based at Serendip Sanctuary and the You Yangs Regional Park on Wadawurrung Country.
You’re an Education Ranger, what does that involve?
I develop and deliver the education program for schools in the Geelong area and coordinate the Junior Ranger program for the Western Basalt District, which includes Geelong, Ballarat, Mount Macedon and Beaufort. I also look after two Park Walks programs and provide inclusive learning opportunities for local disability services.
I work in a team of two, and train rangers throughout the Western Region to provide them with skills to deliver programs to schools and Junior Rangers. Lots of local rangers are delivering programs in their own local area now, which is fantastic.
What do you like best about the job?
I love connecting students and visitors of all abilities with parks around the Geelong area and sharing my knowledge of the geology, history, flora and fauna. My job is diverse, every day is different, and I really enjoy being in the outdoors.
I’m lucky I can pursue my passion of making parks more inclusive and creating new programs to further engage students with our parks. Over the past years I’ve expanded the education program into other areas, from solely delivering programs at Serendip Sanctuary to creating new programs for Steiglitz Historic Park and You Yangs Regional Park.
What's been your most memorable experience working at Parks Victoria?
I love helping people with a disability connect with our parks and developing resources to make their park visit easier. One example of this is the Serendip Social Scripts developed in partnership with peak body for autistic people, Amaze.
The most memorable program I worked on was Parks Victoria’s first all abilities Junior Ranger program – I ran a Junior Ranger activity for children with low vision in partnership with Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria at Serendip. The program was focused on engaging the children’s’ other senses, like listening to bird sounds, touching native grasses, hopping like a kangaroo and smelling the flowers on a gold dust wattle. It was so rewarding to see the children have a ball exploring a new park.
Most of my team’s programs for disability services are run at Serendip Sanctuary because it’s accessible space with flat wide trails. We’re currently in the early planning stage of an exciting new project at Serendip for people of all abilities – a Sensory Garden.
Children with low vision participating in a Junior Ranger program, in partnership with Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria. Credit: Parks Victoria
Tell us about your work with the Junior Rangers! How do you work together with participants, what have you achieved?
My team deliver Junior Ranger programs throughout Western Basalt District. We run minibeast discoveries, nature treasure hunts, gold rush adventures, mountain biking activities and cultural programs – our activities are hands on, encourage kids to use all their senses and most of all, have fun.
I’m proud of how we’ve expanded the program to other parks over time and so many of the district’s rangers are involved in delivering the program now. We used to only run it at Serendip, but now we’ve expanded it to the You Yangs, Steiglitz Historic Park, Ocean Grove Nature Reserve, Creswick Regional Park, Brisbane Ranges National Park, and Macedon Regional Park.
How can the community contribute to conservation and effective land management?
I recommend for anyone to explore their local park, connect with nature, and learn more about culture through finding out who the Traditional Owners of their area are, and learning about that group through their website. You can also join one of Parks Victoria’s volunteer-led Park Walks to find out more about your local park.
Volunteering at a park is another great way to connect with new people and do your bit for the environment. Volunteer activities range from undertaking weed works, and maintaining tracks, to running tours for visitors. Volunteer opportunities with Parks Victoria are advertised here: https://www.parkconnect.vic.gov.au/