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How to Become a Park Ranger

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Enjoy Nature While Working in the Great Outdoors

A true nature-lover will feel right at home in a career as a park ranger—and, as a bonus, seeing you in the position will teach your children the importance of national parks and nature conservation. Park rangers work in municipal park offices, state park systems or for the National Park Service. To apply for a park ranger position, you must have a bachelor's degree; however, while you're earning that degree, you can volunteer or work in a seasonal position to gain experience in the industry.

Job Description

Park rangers work in a variety of areas, including as environmental experts, in law enforcement, as a historian or cultural expert for the park where they work. This might mean enforcing the rules of the park, or it could be that you help park visitors, presenting environmental or cultural programs or even giving group tours in the park.

Education Requirements

The educational requirements to be a park ranger vary based on the state in which you're working and the type of park service you plan to work for. Those who work for the National Park Service are federal employees and must meet GS-5 federal requirements, which translates to a bachelor's degree or at least one year of specialized experience at the GS-4 level, as well as two years of post-secondary education. NPS jobs also require additional federal academy training.

No matter which organization you hope to work for, a degree in a conservation-related field is beneficial. Relevant majors include environmental studies, wildlife and forestry, biological sciences, wildlife management, and park and recreation management. NPS necessitates that applicants have 24 credit hours in one or more of these courses: natural resource management, natural sciences, earth sciences, history, archeology, anthropology, park and recreation management, law enforcement/police science, museum sciences, business administration, social sciences, sociology, behavioral science, or public administration.

About the Industry

The National Park Service encompasses not only traditional parks, but also historic trails, national seashores, national monuments, battlefields and other historic sites. Therefore, as a park ranger, you might not necessarily work in the location that you might expect.

Years of Experience

New park rangers are known as cadets, and they undergo a training period that includes basic law enforcement, visitor services, resource management and interpretation. To be elevated to full-fledged park ranger, the cadet must achieve the performance requirements.

At the next level, state and federal park rangers fulfill a number of general park duties, such as operating procedures, visitor services and resource management. The specific duties will depend on the type of park or place in which they work.

Experienced park rangers can work as peace officers, law enforcement rangers, or interpretive and cultural rangers. Peace officers perform general ranger duties, but they also are responsible for public safety, such as emergency medical response, visitor assistance and public education, including junior ranger programs. Law enforcement rangers have the authority to make arrests, perform investigations and carry firearms. These rangers must have additional training through the policy academy. Interpretative and cultural park rangers work with park conservation, natural and historical resource management, and recreation programs for visitors.

Park rangers who are interested in leadership might become a park manager or supervising park manager. In this role, they are responsible for personnel management, budgeting and other supervisory activities.

Park ranger salaries vary based on the type of park at which a person works, as well as experience and title. Seasonal work at a small state park could pay as low as minimum wage, while supervisors at large state parks or at national parks could earn $68,280 or more. On the federal level, GS-5 employees' salaries range from $27,705 to $36,021 and move up through GS-11, which earns $55,756 to $72,750.

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment for those working in conservation will grow 7 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is about average for all occupations. The majority of growth will likely be in state and local government-owned forest lands, with a focus on the Western United States. This is directly related to the number of forest fires in the region, as well as the increase in population of people living in or near forests.