What it’s like to be a national park ranger


Park ranger Ann Posegate, who works at Grand Canyon National Park, talks to Junior Rangers at the park. (Michael Quinn/National Park Service)
July 3, 2013

The first time I hiked to the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park, I knew I wanted to work there.

Now, as a park ranger for the National Park Service, I share the science, history and beauty of this natural wonder with thousands of visitors from around the world.

National parks are like outdoor museums. They preserve some of America’s most beautiful and historic places. Park rangers protect the parks’ animals, plants, land, buildings, artifacts and people. We have a variety of jobs, depending on where we work and what we studied during college.

Interpretive park rangers (including me) teach people about what makes each national park special and what we can all do to take care of it. We lead hikes, teach school field trips, work at visitor centers and help people stay safe during their visit. Many interpretive park rangers studied science, natural resources or history in college.

Protection rangers make sure visitors follow the rules while exploring the parks. They complete special law enforcement training to do their jobs. They may also rescue stranded or sick visitors, provide medical care, fight wildfires and work at large events such as the presidential inauguration in Washington.

An elk in Grand Canyon National Park. (Michael Quinn/National Park Service)

Rangers who work in smaller parks might do many of these jobs at once.

One of my favorite parts of my job is showing children their first view of the Grand Canyon during school field trips. After walking on a trail through the forest, we arrive at the rim of a huge canyon about 10 miles across and one mile deep. Children are often amazed at the canyon’s size and colors. Sometimes, they think it looks like a painting.

I also love working outdoors in many types of weather. I carry a radio, first-aid kit, water, snacks and sunscreen in my backpack wherever I go. The Grand Canyon is my office!

Park rangers wear a uniform. The flat hat protects us from the hot sun, and hiking boots allow us to walk rocky trails. The National Park Service symbol on the sleeve of our uniform shirt helps visitors recognize us so they can ask for assistance.

Being a park ranger requires a lot of energy. I walk several miles and talk with hundreds of people each day. Nearly 5 million people visit Grand Canyon National Park every year; interpretive park rangers must enjoy working with people and speaking in front of groups.

Rangers must also be prepared for any situation. Recently, I broke up a traffic jam caused by a huge male elk standing in the road. Elk can become dangerous when they get scared, so I asked visitors to park their cars and take pictures from a distance.

Believe it or not, I also help protect people from squirrels. It is illegal to feed or approach wild animals in national parks. But sometimes, visitors try to feed rock squirrels and end up getting bitten.

Park ranger jobs are very competitive, so it is important to go to college. Many park rangers start as volunteers or seasonal employees and work their way up to permanent jobs. We often work at many parks during our careers.

The best way to get a job with the National Park Service is to intern or volunteer in national parks during or after college. The Pathways program helps students find temporary positions so they can try different jobs.

The National Park Service isn’t just for park rangers. It hires carpenters, janitors, scientists, mechanics, writers and other professionals, too.

Advice about becoming a park ranger

Ann Posegate offers a timeline of opportunities for kids interested in a career with the National Park Service.

Today: Become a WebRanger at www.webrangers.us.

Elementary school: Visit local, state and national parks. Become a Junior Ranger while visiting national parks. Join a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop. Go to summer camp. Spend time outdoors.

Middle school: Learn at museums, zoos and aquariums. Play a team sport. (Rangers work in teams to take care of the parks.)

High school: Volunteer at a city or state park. Work as a counselor for a summer camp, or get a job working with people. Exercise outdoors; try activities such as hiking, biking and skiing. Join a Youth Conservation Corps program at a nearby national park, forest or wildlife refuge.

College: Get a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, natural resources, science, history or law enforcement. Apply for summer internships in national parks.

National parks in numbers

401: the number of National Park Service sites

3,861: the number of park rangers who work for the National Park Service

28,000: the number of National Park Service employees (including park rangers)

280 million: the average number of visitors to national parks each year

– Ann Posegate

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