Thursday, April 18, 2013

Good News For Popular National Park Concession Operation

The National Park Service has selected a new company to take over the contract for running the Peaks of Otter Concession operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Bedford, Virginia.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge, Restaurant, Service Station, Camp Store, and Bus Tours have been closed since the contract for the last operator of this well know stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway chose not to renew their relationship with the National Park Service.

With budget constraints resulting in a number of National Park Service operated facilities not scheduled to open this coming summer, it is good news to hear that this popular visitor destination will be reopened to the public once again.

Details should be forthcoming in the next few days as to who received the contract and what form the approved services to be provided will entail.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge on Abbott Lake at mile post 93 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
One of the many days I spent working as a Park Ranger at the Peaks of Otter.

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.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"A Park Ranger's Life" Makes Its Publisher's Great Expectations Author Program

I received a letter and certificate from my publisher, Wheatmark, informing me that my book, "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks", has sold enough copies to qualify me for their Great Expectations Author program.  This means that I met my personal goals for the book and it can only improve.

 Thank you to everyone who  has read my book.  I greatly appreciate your support in making what has been a dream of mine, writing and publishing a book, come true.

I am continuing to work on a second book to follow up on "A Park Ranger's Life" and a work of fiction based on a murder investigation in which I was involved during my career.  Who knows what the future may hold.