Thursday, August 23, 2012

Author of "A Park Ranger's Life" to Speak at Roads Scholar Program

I will be one of the guest speakers at the Roads Scholar week long session on "Shenandoah National Park and Human History in the Blue Ridge."  The program will be conducted during the week of September 16th to the 21st based in Staunton, Virginia.

This Roads Scholar presentation is being coordinated through Virginia Commonwealth University.  For more information go to;

A Park Ranger Looks Back - Follow Up Questions From a Reader

A follow up to the reader questions posted earlier today;

The answer was very helpful, it's hard to find a lot of information like this online. Do you have any other advice? Will the pro's out-weigh the con's in becoming a park ranger? Are the politics worth dealing with? I'm currently working toward my B.S. in Criminal Justice and Recreation Administration and getting into the NPS is one of my goals. I realized after watching the documentary " The Law of Nature: Park Rangers in Yosemite Valley " that it really is hard to balance budget along with the battle between generalization and specialization.
I guess I have a lot of questions to ask since it's not only hard to find straight forward answers, but because I want to make sure I am looking past the romantic image of the park ranger. Especially after reading your book, and with me currently reading Ranger Confidential, what I am planning in going into has never felt so real.

As with any career there are many pros and cons.  As I used to advise people later in my career, "There is no Utopia out there."  

And at times when individuals would become overly frustrated with administrative matters, thoughts of transferring would dance in their heads.  At this point my advise would be that every job is going to have "B.S" you have to put up with.  But sometimes you just need some fresh B.S.

The other thing I learned related to this topic is that the park you work in is not as important as the people you work with.  You can be in a not so famous or well regarded park, but if you are working with people you like and work well with you may find this to be the most rewarding part of  your career.

Yes, there are some hard parts about being a National Park Ranger.  It is not for everyone.  To paraphrase an old saying, "If it was easy, everyone would do it."

Many I worked with had their own frustrations and demons to deal with.  I talk about many of these in my book.  But in the long run I have to say I can not think of a career path that could have been more rewarding or fulfilling for me than being a National Park Ranger.  The key is to keep yourself focused on the mission of the agency and what drew you to the job in the first place.  That is not always easy to do and life's distractions will certainly step in the way.  You have to decide that this is a life path you want to commit to.  If you have a family, you need to be sure they know what you are getting into.

For one starting into this career I would advise that in addition to keeping your personal focus you maintain an outside life away from the park.  In many instances individuals that become tied to their park 24/7 with no outside support system are in danger of burn out and suffer for it.  Make and keep friends that do not work for the Park Service.  It is amazing the emotional grounding that can provide.  Luckily for me my wife is a teacher and that gave us an additional social group away from the park.  Parks can be very busy and demanding places that can eat away all your soul if you let it.  At first this is an exciting adrenalin rush, but over time this can wear on the emotional threads of our lives.

I would highly recommend that you find and read the book "Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement" by Kevin Gillmartin.  His research included working with National Park Rangers so this is not just information for big city police officers. I was privileged to attend a session given by Dr. Gillmartin at a training course later in my career and found his research astounding and resonating like it was written about my life in dealing with the demands of being a Park Ranger.  I really wish I had this information earlier in my career.  I was so moved by this that I bought a copy of the book for all the Rangers on my staff.  So check that out.

So bottom line, after working as a National Park Ranger for almost 33 years and now having been retired for three would I do it all again.  Yes, I have to say I would not hesitate.  There is something about belonging to an organization that has what I feel has such an important mission that sings still sings to my soul.

Generalist Park Ranger Positions

Questions from a reader:

Hello, I have read your book and understand that the NPS have rangers specialize in specific fields. Are there certain areas where there is still the "ranger-does-all," such as law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, interpretation, maintenance, etc...?

I noticed looking through USAJOBS that there was one listing out of the other listings titled "Park Ranger (I)" that hopefully will still be up on this link: Would this be the kind of career I am talking about?

Thank you for writing the book!

Thanks for reading my book.  I hope you enjoyed it.

The type of job you are describing is termed a "Generalist Ranger" in National Park Service parlance.  Truly  and totally generalist positions are becoming harder to find.  The demands of modern society have required park rangers to receive specialized training to be certified to perform duties in law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and search and rescue.  This time and education commitment is good on one hand, but on the other tends to lead toward more specialization of individuals.

As a result in most parks rangers are divided into two main categories.  Protection Park Rangers are the ones who are mainly charged with law enforcement, fire fighting, EMS, and Search and Rescue.  

The second category is Interpretive Park Rangers or what you noted on the USAJobs web site a Park Ranger (I).  This is where you find your naturalists, historians, and educators.  These Park Rangers in many parks also get involved in protection functions other than law enforcement.  This is not normally part of their job description and is done more often if the employee is interested in doing that work and they have a supervisor who supports it.

Some parks will tend to have their personnel in more specialized positions and others will have people more involved a variety of duties.  It may even depend on where in the park a person is assigned.  As an example in Yosemite National Park if one works in protection position in the main Valley they will be spending most of their time focused on law enforcement.  There are also park rangers who specialize in search and rescue and others in interpretation.  If the position is in another area of the park that is less populated with visitors the duties will be more general in nature.

When reading through vacancy announcements on be sure to carefully read through the section on Qualifications and Duties.  This will give you some idea of what that specific position will entail.  If possible, I would recommend that you contact the park and talk with the Chief Ranger or other Park Rangers to ask what duties and the percentage of time Park Rangers spend conducting each activity run.  Even better whenever possible would be to visit the park in person.

Look at parks in a bit more remote areas with smaller staffs.  These areas tend to have their staffs work in more general positions to cover all the functions within a park with their limited personnel resources.

I hope this in some way answers some of your questions.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Park Ranger Training

I have received several requests for information and guidance in the process to qualify for a job with the National Park Service as a Law Enforcement certified Park Ranger.  As I have written in the past,  the vast majority of individuals start working as a temporary or seasonal employee.  Not only myself, but most of the park rangers I worked with during my career started out this way.

One of the, what many consider, the oddities of the National Park Service is that to qualify for a seasonal law enforcement or protection positions an individual must complete a training academy certified by the Park Service.  You will hear this referred to as the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program or SLETP.  These training academies are operated by colleges and universities across the country.  The odd part is that this program is done by the prospective Park Ranger on their own time and at their own expense.  Once completed the graduate can be considered for hiring for jobs that last for up to six months at a National Park anywhere in the country.  In some cases these programs will also qualify graduates to work for state and local agencies where they are located.

In addition, once someone is fortunate enough to be selected for a permanent Park Ranger protection position, they will be required to complete the training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).

You can learn a lot more at these sites: