Here is how one wilderness ranger turned a child's sadness in losing his favorite toy into an educational experience for others.
Wilderness ranger Eric Gjonnes decided to hold onto the stuffed toy seal he ran across while picking up trash in the Detroit ranger district of the Willamette National Forest in Oregon because he realized it may be a child's best friend.
"I just didn't feel right about putting the stuffed seal in the garbage bag, so I chose to keep him on my pack," Gjonnes told KMTR News Source 16 of Eugene. "I have children of my own too, and know that every child has that one special toy that they just can't live without."
It was a good call, because the seal's owner, five-year-old Liam Zahn was looking for him. Zahn and his family were camping in the area when the toy, known as "Seal Pup" was misplaced and lost.
"As long as he has that stuffed animal with him, he feels safe and comforted," Sara Zahn, Liam's mother said.
"I really liked him because he was soft and cozy," Liam told reporters of his favorite toy.
Thanks to the Internet, word got out the Zahn family was looking for the beloved lost toy, and it didn't take long for word to reach Gjonnes. He was able to set up a meeting to return the seal pup.
But first, Eric decided to do something unique to make an educational experience out of the incident. Gjonnes had to finish some work, and he took Seal Pup along for the ride, taking photos of the seal's adventures, crossing streams, purifying water and collecting trash.
The idea behind the photos was to help educate Liam and his family on the job a wilderness ranger. Gjonnes told reporters it would help Liam and his family get an idea of the duties and importance of them in preserving the natural beauty.
One of the photos has Seal Pup, whom Gjonnes had nicknamed, "Smokey," crossing a steam on a log.
"We got to the water crossings where I had to cross a river, Smokey wanted to do that on his own, so he actually walked across the logs and the rocks himself," Gjonnes said. "He is a seal after all."
Liam was quite surprised when he saw the photos of what his toy had been up to.
"He magically crossed a river on rocks," Liam told reporters.
Liam and his sister presented ranger Gjonnes with a basket of cookies to thank him when the family met with him to return the toy. Gjonnes told reporters that the incident has helped him raise awareness of wilderness fire safety and the principles of "leave no trace."
More than that, he was just happy to reunite a child with his lost toy. "Wilderness is very important to me, and it's very important I think for children to get out there and learn to love and respect the wilderness, so I felt really good about being able to bring a happy ending to his wilderness adventure," Gjonnes said.
"I'm just going to go home and cuddle with him in my bed," Liam said, clearly happy to be reunited with his best friend.
Images via KMTR News