If you ever have visited a national park or a state park, you probably must have witnessed an important element – the park rangers. The United States is full of parks. And, not only the United States, other countries have beautiful and enigmatic parks as well; and not just national parks, but also state and local parks. Park rangers are the protectors of these parks, who look after the land, amenities, management, services, and the visitors of the park. They take over many roles and responsibilities from time to time. If you are thinking about a career as a park ranger, this blog will help you with the fundamentals of the career and the steps to become a park ranger.
Park rangers typically work for the National Park Service and relevant state agencies. They manage and protect the parks, historical sites, and other recreational centers and make sure visitors have a great time touring and accessing the site. Their duties involve educating the public about the parks of the country, wildlife, and plants, promoting the conservation of natural resources, gathering information relevant to science, conducting rescue operations, and protecting the natural resources and visitors of the parks. They act as the stewards of the state and national parks, while trying their best to keep the natural resources preserved and safe for the wildlife, and flora and fauna.
With experience and hard work, park rangers can advance in their careers to new roles, such as park director and park superintended.
Common Job duties of Park Rangers
- Enforce law and regulations
- Interact with public visitors
- Educate the public about wildlife, plants, and other natural resources
- Research and collect scientific and natural information, and maintain historical records and fact sheets
- Make sure the amenities provided are effective and operational
- Operate and maintain campgrounds
- Conduct surveillance
- Investigate complaints
- Perform rescue or search operations
- Protect wildlife from natural calamities
- Provide treatment to wildlife, visitors, and staffs
- Protect properties of the park
- Lead tours and act as a guide
Once you become a park ranger, most of your job duties will be in the field outside. However, you may also occasionally work from an office to complete documenting, conduct meetings with officials, discuss managerial development and goals, or support facilities such as visitors’ centers. You can also specialize in specific areas and become an expert consultant or official.
Areas that You Can Specialize in
- Interpretive Park Rangers: You will work as an educational officer, training new park rangers and educating the public about local histories, geology, geography, climate, vegetation, wildlife, plants and trees, and other relevant subjects.
- Background Rangers: You will work in the most remote areas of the park for weeks together, maintaining the park’s health and facilities offered, collecting data and evidence, and looking after the operations in those particular areas.
- Water-based Rangers: You will manage different water vessels, perform search operations, and lead rescue operations in water.
- Snow Rangers: You will typically be working up in the mountains, making sure everything is just in place, by patrolling on skis and snowmobiles.
Steps to Become a Park Ranger
Step 1: Decide What You Want to become
You must first decide the location, such as whether to work in a backcountry or wilderness or participate in rescue operations or collect scientific and historical data. You can also hope to work as a park guide – welcome visitors, educate them about the animals and plants, and take them on safaris and tours. You must decide the kind of role you would like to see yourself in before you pursue this career. Here is a breakdown of what you could possibly choose:
- You can get a degree in earth science or forestry and collect information about wildlife and plant, and help the park management take important decisions on health management of the park and the overall conservation of the park.
- You can focus on educating the public on various topics, such as wildlife preservation, geological formations of the park, pollution and its effects on the park, climate change, littering, park history, park evolution, climatic conditions, vegetation, and steps to enjoy the park and preserving it.
- Law enforcement and firefighting could also be your focal point. Rangers in this area of specialization act as the first line of security in areas that are far from firefighters and police. They make sure everyone around the park including visitors, follow the safety and precautions rules.
Step 2: Understand the Qualities required to be a Park Ranger
The job of a park ranger is not an easy one. You will be a part of the government and play a serious role in protecting the country’s wealth, i.e. the state and federal land. Whatever you choose to become or specialize in, you must hone these following qualities:
- Honor the park’s natural resources.
- Learn as much as possible about the park, its land, the animals, plants, and vegetation.
- Love animals and vow to protect them, and the plants and trees first.
- Be a leader and an expert decision maker for you will have to lead rescue teams, lead a safari through the forest, head search expedition, and guide people in various situations effectively.
- Be up for new work.
- Be flexible to work during weekends and holidays because that is the time parks see most visitors. So technically, you will be the busiest during vacations.
- Be friendly, patient, yet dynamic, and commanding.
- Learn to speak the local language and English.
Step 3: Gain Required Educational Qualifications
You must have at least a two-year graduation degree or an equivalent diploma and an additional one year of work experience in a local park to qualify as a park ranger for the National Park Service. The usual degrees that most park rangers obtain include law enforcement, forestry science, public administration, park management, recreation. However, some employers select candidates having a four-year degree.
On the other hand, you must pursue a bachelor’s degree in either environmental science, or biology, forestry, or geology, if you wish to specialize in ecology and park conservation.
Step 4: Gain Experience and Learn about the Park System
You must get familiar with parks and their systems. Therefore, you should visit state and national parks, learn about their histories, law, rules, and regulations. You might also want to interact with the park rangers there and learn more about the career and the steps they took to get their jobs. You may also volunteer to assist rangers on their duties to get a better grasp of the job.
Do not forget to apply for internships or entry-level jobs to gain the first-hand experience before you move on to become a park ranger. Many parks hire seasonal workers for entry-level positions. Some of the places you should apply for jobs include historical sites, recreational centers, and of course national park, state park, and municipal park. Initially, you will be working as a tour guide at a museum or a docent, before moving on to more crucial roles. You may also work as a paid intern at the Student Conversation Association.
Learn as much as possible. Ask questions, get curious, and research stuffs that you newly come across. Keep your quest for learning continued. The more knowledge you gain the easier will it be for you to get a job.
Step 5: Find and Apply for Jobs
Once you gain the required years of work experience, you should start gathering contacts for job applications. You can begin at the office that has jurisdiction over the location where you want to work and ask what is required to become a park ranger. Most natural vegetation and parks have similar requirements, but it may vary based on the size, amenities, needs, wildlife, country, state, and management.
If you wish to work only with a national park, you need to contact the regional office of National Park Service and find vacancies. You can also search for information on the Federal government’s official website and your country’s government job portal.
To work for the state and municipal parks, you must find vacancies at the state’s department of parks and the city’s department of parks respectively. You should also try finding jobs at recreational centers for they may have similar kind of openings.
The application process varies depending upon the place you apply. However, typical things include filling an application, examination, interview, and a background check. You must know the process as well as the requirements, such as the KYC documents before you apply so that you are not sent back for the second review.
Step 6: Pass the Examination
You must pass the Group VI Law Enforcement and Investigation examination to qualify as a park ranger. The examination is regulated by the Administrative Careers with America when ultimately the National Park Service determines candidate’s eligibility. You can take the examination only after you apply for a job.
Note that the examination name and criteria vary from country to country. The information provided by us is limited to only American citizens. You should contact your state or federal national park service authorities to gather relevant application information.
Moving on, you should also complete the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program, in case you want to be a law enforcement park ranger. In America, there are nine colleges that offer this program. There is no substitute for this program, nor do they have any online course. You cannot substitute work experience for studying this program as well.
Step 7: Get on the Job Training
The National Park Service has specific training for law enforcement and interpretive rangers. If you decide to go with seasonal law enforcement, you will go through a training course similar to the basic training provided at the police academy. On the other hand, if you consider becoming a seasonal law enforcement ranger, you must attend the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. You will learn skills like enforcing laws, conducting investigations, performing searches, making arrests, training for disaster management, and so on.
Your possible job titles for this career include environmental educational specialist, park activities coordinator, park manager, park naturalist, and program manager.
The salaries of park rangers are based on the country’s government general schedule pay table. You can view the salary range at your country’s personnel management website.
Know the Pros and Cons of this Career
The biggest advantage of this career is getting a chance to work in the most beautiful places in the world. If you care about nature and wish to work outdoors all day, this job is perfect for you. No shifts, no dealing with marketing and promotion, and no closing deals. In fact, you will just meet happy people, eager people, and animals.
Your job will be blissful most often, especially if you choose to work for a national park. Imagine it like working in Jurassic Park, san the giant animals of course. However, living amidst nature will bring to you new revelations every day. You will get to learn a lot many things relating to nature preservation and conservation, wildlife, and natural resources. This is also a good way to relieve stress and meditate.
Of course, there are flipsides to this job. Forest, animals, plants, and trees will be your immediate social circle and most definitely your world. You will be stationed inside the park all day long, often times for weeks together without getting a chance to meet your families and friends. There is hardly any time left for social life. While it may sound appealing in the beginning, the seclusion can prick badly over time.
Moving on, you must get accustomed to the fact that you will be involved in a lot of manual labor, working in scorching summer, freezing winter, and dripping rain. You will also be working during holidays and weekends.
If you are a park ranger providing law enforcement, you will frequently be led into dangerous situations. The job of a law enforcement park ranger can be emotionally draining.
Did you find the article useful? If yes, let us know how it helped you to make decisions about your career.