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Park Ranger Career Guide

Park rangers, who generally work for the National Park Service or a comparable state agency, manage and protect parks, recreational areas, and historical sites. Among their most important goals are the promotion of conservation of America’s natural resources, the education of the public about the country’s parks, and the protection of both the parks and the visitors to those parks.

Park Ranger Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

  • Collect and maintain historical, natural, and scientific information
  • Enforce laws and regulations
  • Guard against forest fires
  • Interact with the public
  • Investigate complaints
  • Lead tours of parks and other sites
  • Operate and maintain campgrounds
  • Perform search and rescue for the public
  • Protect property

Park rangers primarily work outside, but they may also work in an office, when necessary, to complete paperwork. Park managers can also specialize in specific areas, including:

  • Backcountry rangers work in the most remote areas and may spend weeks in the park, maintaining the area.
  • Interpretive park rangers typically train other aspiring park rangers about local history and wildlife, geology, and how to effectively speak in public.
  • Snow rangers work in the mountains and may patrol on skis or on snowmobiles.
  • Water-based rangers may have such responsibilities as operation of water vessels and water rescue, including swift water rescue.

How to Become a Park Ranger: Qualifications and Requirements

Prospective park managers generally have a bachelor’s degree in a science field, such as botany, zoology, geology, environmental studies, or ecology. Some universities offer programs specifically designed for park management or forestry. Those candidates with a degree in park management or forestry may have a hiring advantage.

Park Ranger Job Training

Candidates generally receive training at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona or at a training facility in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Individual states may also have further training requirements. North Carolina, for example, requires all new park rangers to complete four weeks of basic training followed by 200 hours of training that covers such topics as education skills, emergency medical techniques, and how to suppress wildfires. Rangers must also complete additional education to earn environmental education certification in North Carolina. Prospective candidates, who want to work in certain states, can generally learn more about the specific requirements by visiting the state’s official parks and recreation website.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Park rangers must be physically fit. While park rangers often live and work in remote areas, they must still communicate effectively and work well with others. Park managers must also have a strong knowledge of the geography of the state and of the park in which they work, must be able to work well under pressure, and must have the ability to work long hours.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Environmental education specialist
  • Park activities coordinator
  • Park manager
  • Park naturalist
  • Program manager

Career Opportunities and Employers

Those individuals, who gain experience and time on the job, may move to such advanced positions as park superintendent or park director. Retired park managers sometimes move into law enforcement positions. Park rangers generally work for state or national parks, such as Grand Canyon National Park, the US Department of Interior National Park Service, and Yellowstone National Park.

Park Ranger Salary and Outlook

Park rangers’ salary is based on the government’s General Schedule pay tables which can be viewed at the US Office of Personnel Management website. For the similar occupation of fish and game warden, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average annual wage of $50,470.1 While budgets are constrained, there are occasional openings for park rangers in the US Park Services throughout the country. Find current openings at USAJOBS.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

How do I begin the application process?

Candidates should contact the Department of Parks and Recreation of their state or the US National Parks Service to request application materials.

How competitive are positions for park ranger?

Extremely competitive. In addition to a college degree, some seasoned park rangers recommend getting a foot in the door through interning or volunteering at a national or a state park. Seasonal ranger work may also lead to a full time, year round position.

Where do park rangers typically live?

Rangers often live in the parks in which they work.

What are the typical working conditions for park rangers?

Rangers must be prepared to work long hours, often outdoors, in all types of weather, including heat, cold, snow, and rain. They must also possess the patience required to work with a diverse group of people.

Additional Resources

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1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333031.htm
2. O*NET Online: http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1031.03
3. NC Division of Parks and Recreation: http://www.ncparks.gov/Jobs/ranger.php
4. Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/what-its-like-to-be-a-national-park-ranger/2013/07/03/fcefb058-da9b-11e2-9df4-895344c13c30_story.html