So I came across a person who was in the same situation as me today. 16 and wanting to become a park ranger. He had some questions about it, many of which I had when I first started getting into this, so I thought it be great to collect all that I’ve learned thus far in one spot. So I did and I even got to help someone out. This was my response:
Hey man what’s up! I’m actually in the same situation as you (16 and want to be a park ranger) and I know exactly what you’re going through. I’ve done a lot of research into it the last couple months and I think I might be able to help you out. In fact back in January I actually had a chance to sit down with a ranger and ask him some similar questions.
1. Sorry I’m gonna kinda jump out of order for your questions but you’ll understand why. First off you have to figure what kind of ranger you want to be. Rangers are typically split into two groups; law enforcement and interpretation.
-Law enforcement rangers (or as my mom calls them “forest police officers”) deal with law enforcement (obviously), search & rescue operations, and protection and patrol of park lands.
-Interpretation rangers are more visitor based and deal with leading group activities, teaching lessons, and general park management.
—-There are also naturalist park rangers (usually hired as a subset of an interpretive ranger) who have a focus on the applied sciences in the parks.—-
However in small parks sometimes rangers can assume both roles. Deciding which you have a passion for will determine your next steps in education.
2. Education. This can get a bit confusing to explain but I’ll do my best.
-For law enforcement seasonal positions the minimum requirement is to complete the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) which is offered at only a few universities throughout the year. The program may be set up differently by each school so it’s important to read into what exactly they require however the base line is the same; must be 21, pass a drug test, pass a physical, etc… Upon completion you’ll be given a certificate which makes you eligible to be hired by the NPS, Forest Service, Police, Secret Service, Fish & Game Management, and I believe the FBI. Here’s a link that gives a list of places the program is hosted: http://www.anpr.org/academies.htm
As for college courses it will definitely boost your resume to have a degree (plus a chance to learn more about what you’re getting into). Some of the universities mentioned in the link do have park related programs and certificates which usually get defined as an associates of applied science. You might have to be very keen since sometimes related classes may have obscure names but if you have questions you can always just call the head instructor or the college.
-For interpretive rangers education requirement are a lot less defined. You can get hired as an interpretive ranger at a national park at 18 (or at least you can in Ohio, not sure if it’s different for other states) but typically they want people who have at least an associates with experience in park related activities. From what I read it doesn’t matter a whole lot in what your associates is in but just that you have one. The experience side is gonna help you a lot more but there are plenty of park focused courses at colleges which can definitely help you out such as Sports & Recreation Management, Park Management, Recreation Park and Tourism Management, Outdoor Leadership, etc…. and then obviously if going into the science field it’d be great to get a degree in the science your interested in along with a minor in ecology.
3ish. BUT LET ME MAKE THIS ABUNDANTLY CLEAR. EXPERIENCE AND CONNECTIONS THROUGH VOLUNTEERING IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. This kinda leads into your question about the field being hard to get into. Yes it is hard but you’re are 16. You have at least 2 years to build up your resume without concern. DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. Do it right and the “hiring hump” ,as the ranger said, becomes significantly smaller. Now I don’t know about you but I’m very interested in becoming a law enforcement ranger especially for search and rescue operations so I’ve been doing everything that might even have slight relevance to my time as a ranger. Gun lessons? Yes. Horseback riding? Heck Yes. Rock climbing? Hella. Self defense classes? I’m deadly. Not to mention already having outdoor experience in things like hiking, backpacking, kayaking, wilderness skills, and so on from summer camp and hobbies. Heck I already have my whole summer and next year filled with stuff to do. Once you know what you want to do and where to look you’ll be doing better that 90% of the people who are looking for a ranger position.
4. To be entirely honest I’m not sure if Australia is any easier but I think if you follow the above info then you’d still be pretty well of. The only big obstacle I see with that is not knowing the land well but if you have connections and are willing to learn then power to ya’.
5. Typically you only live in a park if your stationed in a remote location. These park rangers are called backcountry rangers (usually law enforcement rangers) but it is possible to live in a park if the park is simply that huge. I know this happens a lot at parks like the Grand Canyon and parts of Yosemite which house many of their staff on park property or nearby.
6. Hours vary by what kind of ranger you are, where you work, and the events of the day. A lot of rangers have to work weekends and holidays and law enforcement rangers can sometimes have 24+ hour days if SAR operations are involved.
I provided some links of some pages that helped me get said information and my e mail if he had anymore questions. Also gave a link to this blog so if your reading this then ;)