Monday, April 15, 2013

Park Ranger Questions From a College Student

I was asked a series of questions by a college student for a class project.  You may find some of these answers of interest.

Where did you work during the majority of your time as a Park Ranger?   

I spent the most of my 32+-year career on the Blue Ridge Parkway in both NC and VA having worked in three different districts from 1981 to 2008.  I started in 1975 at Fort McHenry in Baltimore and then transferred to Fredericksburg, Va in 1977.  Being part of the National Park Service I worked on details as long as four months all across the country fighting fires, helping with complex investigations, hurricane recoveries, training, etc.

 What did you like about being a Park Ranger?

Being part of an organization with an important mission to preserve and protect some of the most important sites and resources in our Country.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live the career I dreamed of since being a child.

 Was there anything you disliked about it?

Dealing with administrative and bureaucratic minutia such as forms, forms, forms, and insufficient budgets to do the job affectively, efficiently, and safely.  Toward the end of my career as a supervisor and manager I felt I spent way to much time making excuses for why we could not accomplish the job or work on initiatives proposed by employees and the public.

 Could you describe a typical day at a park you worked at?

No, there was no such thing as a typical day.  I could wake up in the morning and form a list in my head of what I needed to accomplish that day and by the time I got to work all those plans would be thrown out the window.  We spent much of our time responding to whatever was happening at the time.  That could range from emergencies, investigations, or new administrative demands.  This lack of routine was one of the aspects of the job that I enjoyed most of the time, although over the long stretch it can drain you physically and emotionally.

 How did you get started in the Ranger world?

I started as most Park Rangers do as a seasonal employee.  My first such job was at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.  I made the contact to get this job as the instructor for one of my classes in college was the Chief Ranger at the park. 
You can learn a lot more detail about how to get started with the National Park Service on by blog;  Go to the search window to the right and type in “jobs.”  That will take you to several articles I have written on this topic you might find of assistance

What would you say is the best way to enter the field/occupation?

Starting as a seasonal park ranger (see above) or volunteering at a National Park is where most people get their foot in the door.  You can learn more about this at the blog.

 What sort of demands are there to do the job?

Depending on what type of position you apply for there are certain requirements.  The general requirement for full time positions is a four-year college degree.  You can work as a volunteer or seasonal without a degree.  Many people do this during summer breaks from college.

If applying for what is referred to as a protection ranger position (these are the Rangers who do law enforcement, fire, Search and Rescue, etc. type of work) there are specific physical and medical requirements.  You can learn more about this at:

Generally speaking a good park ranger needs to be flexible, patient, always willing to learn (I spent my entire career learning new skills and knowledge), knowledgeable about the resources they are protecting (and that will be different for each park), and truly dedicated to protecting park visitors and the resources with which you are entrusted.

 With government cutbacks, how do you see the future for Park Rangers?

With current cut backs in budgets, there will be a slow down in hiring.  Right now there is a freeze on hiring new full time employees due to the Sequester.  Many parks may also be hiring less seasonal employees this summer.  During my career I witnessed numerous such situations and there was eventually some loosening of funds for filling critical positions.

Another factor is that many Park Rangers of my generation are continuing to retire.  It was predicted one year ago that more that one third of the Park Rangers working then would be retiring within three years.  This could and should spell opportunity for those interested in getting into this field.  Remember I mentioned patience in one of the answers above.

 Do you have any advice for someone looking to enter the same line of work?

Get as much experience as you can working with the public, learning about resources of parks, visit parks and get to know someone on the staff, get training and certifications in first aid, emergency management, fire fighting, outdoor skills, etc.  These opportunities can be found if not in parks then with local volunteer fire departments and rescue squads.

Most importantly, stay in school and complete a four-year degree looking for chances to work in parks during the summer months.

1 comment:

  1. I have read A Park Ranger's Life and was absolutely thrilled to be exposed to the stories not often told in the parks by the rangers. I enjoyed the book greatly.