Thursday, August 23, 2012

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.


  1. Hi Bruce,
    I recently read a summary of a book by a NPS LE ranger named Danno who has been suffering repercussions from superiiors due to being a whistleblower. The summary and accompanying article was pretty unsettling for me to read especially since I'm the mom of a LE ranger who loves his job and hopes to remain with the NPS.
    I'm thinking of reading the book but am almost afraid to do so.... any thoughts on the book?
    PS.... we met on a Chessie trail walk last year.

  2. Danno's experience is extraordinary, but not impossible to happen again with our current political atmosphere. Our politicians and their appointees seem to be increasing their attempts at influence to benefit friends and supporters to the lowest levels of government. My advice for today's Rangers is to stay as far away from D.C. as possible.

    As for the book, I would read it knowing that this situation has been brought to light and that will make it harder for the bad guys next time..... I hope.