Help me become a park ranger
July 25, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

How can I become a full-time National Park ranger (or other full-time National Park occupation) without spending years working seasonal positions and moving around a bunch, given my education and experience (see inside)?

I would love to have a career working for a National Park, but I don't want to move all over the country multiple times to advance to a permanent job. I'm a 29 year old married homeowner, and I'm happy to leave my hometown (Portland, OR), but with husband and cats in tow, moving every six months isn't really feasible.

I don't have a science-y or outdoorsy background, but I am half way through my Masters in Public Administration degree (my undergraduate degree is in English, not so helpful here) and I currently work as a fundraiser for a public university. I have lots of experience in marketing, events, writing and other office-y stuff. How can I use my experience to get a full-time job in a National Park?
posted by rabinowitz to Work & Money (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From what I've observed (many close friends in ranger positions), you can't really just sweep in without paying your dues...i.e. seasonal positions in various parks...if you're looking to be a ranger. However, most parks have other positions (administrative, volunteer coordinating, trail crews) that may hire year-round in a specific parks.

Check with the parks in your area. I strongly recommend putting in some volunteer hours with the parks in your area.
posted by ms.jones at 5:52 PM on July 25, 2010

I meant to add that your background is an asset...grant & pr writing are invaluable to parks. Don't downplay it!
posted by ms.jones at 5:55 PM on July 25, 2010

I've worked seasonally for state parks and have a number of friends who are with NPS, the Forest Service, etc. To the best of my knowledge, ms. jones is correct: there aren't a lot of short cuts to a full-time, year-round ranger position. Almost everyone works her way up. The NPS HR bureaucracy is byzantine, and unless you have an additional leg up of some kind (a veteran with a natural resources background and a willingness to move anywhere might stand a chance), it's not easy to land a job like that without paying some dues.

I also agree with ms. jones that volunteering with a park and getting to know the staff would be the best way for you to network and demonstrate your resourcefulness with fund-raising, PR, etc., which could be a very practical step toward a job in park administration. However, you seem especially interested in being a ranger, and I think that's a tough one unless you gain some experience as a seasonal worker and/or go back to school in science or natural resource stuff.

I would also strongly encourage you to look at state parks, which might be an easier way to get your start and see if you like the work. I'm sure there are some near you, and they will almost certainly appreciate some volunteer help if nothing else.
posted by cirripede at 8:08 PM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before I moved abroad I lived Washington State. There were lots of radio and internet ads for employment with the US Border Patrol, which might or might not be something of a career match with the NFS -- lots of time outdoors, etc. I thought about applying, actually, and if I remember correctly a college degree was a big leg-up on the competition.
posted by bardic at 2:57 AM on July 26, 2010

I live and volunteer in a national park - I have a BA and MA in biological sciences, 6 years experience doing museum education, have done research on an endemic park species for 4+ years, the park WANTS to hire me and I can't get hired even for a seasonal position. Every time there is an opening a veteran applies and they go to the top of the list. I am glad there are mechanisms at work to ensure veterans get work but it is very frustrating that I can't get hired.

That being said, I'm friends with many people in the park service who have permanent positions. The ones who moved to permanent status the quickest all worked at less desirable parks first - typically very remote. I have friends who spent 6 months as a temp/seasonal before getting a permanent position and others who are still seasonal 7 years later. In addition, a career with the park service pretty much means moving around to get ahead or having superhuman amounts of patience waiting to move up at your chosen park. The park service is great but it i definitely a place were you have to pay some serious dues.
posted by a22lamia at 6:50 AM on July 26, 2010

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