I got this question from a reader in relation to how much time Park Rangers spend hiking in backcountry areas.
I spend a considerable amount of my free time rock climbing and hiking, and lately those hikes have been on sections of the AT off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've seen a few rangers but they were all in vehicles, my question is: do any rangers patrol the wilderness on foot? I suppose what I am really asking is; is one of the responsibilities of rangers on the BRP (or in other parks) to go on long treks through the parks on foot? Being 18 and beginning to search for my future profession, becoming a park ranger seems incredibly interesting, even more so if they have to patrol large expanses on foot.
Although Park Ranger responsibilities are centrally the same in that they work to protect and preserve resources, the ways in which they accomplish those duties vary based on the specific park and its resource base.
You mention seeing Park Rangers in vehicles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most of these Rangers would rather spend more time in the backcountry patrolling trails and park boundaries. That is one of their many responsibilities. The fact that The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited National Park area in the country and that 98% of those 18 million visitors stay close to the road and facilities keep Park Rangers close to those areas. Where visitors are concentrated along the road corridor is where the majority of incidents and problems occur. I remember many instances where I had planned to spend a day patrolling trails or boundary only to be called back for a human caused emergency. Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway are also spread thin and have to cover long distances to respond to emergencies. A consequence of these conditions is that Park Rangers in this park do not as often as they would like have the chance to spend extended time in the backcountry.
Other parks with larger land bases and staffing do hire Park Rangers that work specifically in remote backcountry areas. Many of these positions are filled by seasonal temporary employees since their services are only required during the summer visitor seasons. There are a number of well known and respected park rangers in Western National Parks that have declined opportunities to become full time permanent employees so they can keep their backcountry experiences alive. I would recommend that you read the book Uncertain Path by William Tweed (you can find it on Amazon.com) who hiked the Muir Trail in California and meets several of these Backcountry Rangers along the trail.
So although the Blue Ridge Parkway may not be the best example of an area where Park Rangers spend a significant amount of time in the woods, there are many other parks that would make these opportunities available. Just a few of the National Parks you may want to check out would be:
Sequoia Kings Canyon
The Grand Canyon
Great Smokey Mountains
The National Park areas in Alaska
And there are more out there. You can learn more about National Parks at: