If you love the beauty of misty mornings outlined by hazy sunshine, the smell of dew and new beginnings, then a park ranger’s life might be ideal for you. With more than 76 million acres of national parks within its purview, the U.S. National Park Service and the park rangers it employs educate and ensure the safety of the millions of visitors who hike, climb, ski, boat, fish, and explore these natural resources.
The primary responsibility of the park ranger is safety. Rangers must strictly enforce outdoor safety codes and ensure the compliance of campers, hikers, and picnickers. Seemingly small details such as accurately completing registration forms at park offices become crucial links should a search and rescue mission become necessary. As accidents will and often do happen in the great outdoors, park rangers are trained in first aid and rescue operations and are alert at all times to changing weather conditions, the progress and safe return of hiking or climbing groups, the condition of trails, the movement of wildlife, wind gusts, and forest fires. Besides the daily activities of interrelating with visitors, answering questions, providing guided tours, rescuing park users who might have strayed too far, enforcing laws, and directing traffic, park rangers are often called upon to be conservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, and even botanists. Park rangers protect the park’s natural resources from vandals who destroy park property or fell trees for firewood, pollute lakes and rivers, harm wildlife, and leave campfires unattended. Should a forest fire start, then rangers become firefighters.
Park rangers are empowered to arrest and forcibly evict those who violate park laws. If you shrink from confrontation and lack the confidence and authority of a strong leader, then you may want to consider a different profession. Park rangers must be flexible enough to wear many hats in the execution of their duties. Strong people skills, the ability to work under pressure, in groups or alone, sometimes for extraordinarily long hours and the patience of Job are the hallmarks of a fine park ranger. If you have the requisite stamina, can handle the rigors of all kinds of climate and terrain, and are concerned about the earth’s rapidly diminishing natural resources, then the life of a park ranger may indeed be your fertile soil.
A college degree and/or the right combination of education and experience in park recreation and management will possibly get you in on the ground level of this profession. Job openings are few and competition is fierce, so college credits in forestry, geology, botany, conservation, wildlife management, and other relevant subjects will go a long way in equipping you for a career that offers a multitude of possibilities. In lieu of a college education, candidates must have at least three years of experience in parks and conservation and must demonstrate an overall understanding of park work. A working knowledge of law enforcement, management, and communication skills also enhances one’s prospects. Higher level management positions may require graduate degrees.
Part-time or seasonal work at national or state parks is an important stepping stone to an entry-level park ranger position. Seasonal workers perform jobs such as information desk manning, trash collection, fire services, trail maintenance, law enforcement, and other unskilled tasks which are the core of the park ranger’s life. Perform these well and you may make it into an entry-level position in the big league. A vast majority of high-level park rangers start out as entry-level drones. Thus the trail to promotion and high executive office starts with successful and thorough completion of every step. A keen grasp of the overall mechanics of the business can make you a sharper, more competent administrator. Promotions come largely from within the ranks; salary is commensurate with responsibility. Today’s entry-level workers may be tomorrow’s park manager or district ranger. But a virtual lack of new job openings coupled with state and federal budget cuts mean that job seekers will have to look for work outside of the federally funded National Park Service in other federal land and resource management agencies as well as state and local agencies.
Park rangers are tenured professionals. Such are the rewards and enjoyment of this career that rangers do not readily relinquish their posts. Because much of a park ranger’s duties involve policing, law enforcement offers a readily available career for the retired or out-of-work park ranger. For the ranger specializing in landscaping, conservation, wildlife management, and ecological studies, possible career alternatives abound in areas such as zookeeping, corporate/industrial parks landscaping, and pollution containment. The winning combination of communication, people and management skills allow them to become successful customer and public relations managers.