How to Become a Park Ranger

The United States is uniquely blessed with millions upon millions of acres of pristine wilderness and National Park land. Thanks to the prudent actions of governments both at the state and the Federal levels, these natural resources are protected from development forever. All of that wide open space requires thousands of park rangers to safeguard it from harm. If you’re a lover of the outdoors and enjoy a challenge, becoming a park ranger with either the National Park Service or with a state park can be a rewarding way to earn a living.

Job Description, Duties and Responsibilities
Park rangers have to deal with an almost mind-boggling array of everyday tasks that run the gamut from conservation work to drug interdiction Typically, a park ranger will collect entrance fees, maintain trails, complete ecological surveys and patrol natural areas. Furthermore, search and rescue operations, fire watch details and EMT services frequently come with the territory. Oftentimes, park rangers are also called upon to educate the general public about the park land under their supervision and give guided tours.
Pros, Cons & Compensation of Park Ranger Life
One of the best things about a career as a park ranger is the ability to work outdoors in a relatively stress-free environment. Furthermore, working for the government usually provides terrific benefits, above average pay and job security. On the flip side, dealing with bureaucracy, filing reams of paperwork and confronting the occasionally rowdy park visitor can be a hassle. The average park ranger salary in 2012 was a healthy $40,000 per year, which doesn’t include fringe benefits and perks.

Required Training and Certification
While education and training for park rangers varies depending on the position in question, it’s usually best to have either a 2-year or 4-year college degree in ecology, forestry or a related field. Completing a specialized park ranger at an institute of higher education such as Northern Arizona University is arguably the best route to take. Additionally, those interested in law enforcement work within the National Park Service need to complete a certified Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP).

How to Get Started
First things first, decide where you’d like to be stationed and what kind of work you’re most interested in. If you’re raring to go and don’t want to go through any formal education, the best way to begin is by volunteering for your local state park system. Many rangers get started by working in an unofficial capacity. There are many paths to becoming a full-time park ranger, so fully explore your options before committing to any game plan.

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