When people think about life as a park ranger, they often picture a man or woman in a smart uniform patrolling the back country at Yosemite or Yellowstone, but there is much more to park ranger job duties than that. In reality, park rangers perform a host of duties, from guiding tours through historical sites to rescuing stranded hikers.
The exact nature of the job duties performed by park rangers depends in large part on where they work. While most people associate the job of park ranger with the great outdoors, many rangers work in more urban areas – like Valley Forge National Park and Independence Hall in the Philadelphia area.
Park rangers are called upon to perform a wide variety of tasks, from traditional outdoor activities like fire control and resource conservation to gathering and disseminating historical and scientific information. Park rangers also develop educational programs to make the sites where they work more interesting to visitors. These educational programs can be anything from a history of the site to information on the local flora and fauna.
Park rangers may also demonstrate historical folk art and ancient customs, from basket weaving and operating a loom to stringing a bow and tracking game. These demonstrations are a big part of life at many national parks, and park rangers use their skills to bring history to life for visitors.
In addition to making visits more interesting for tourists, park rangers have other very important duties. Park rangers are responsible for enforcing the various laws and regulations governing the national parks and historic sites where they work. These laws range from restrictions on camping sites and the types of structures that can be erected, to limitations on noise and the investigation of complaints called in by campers and concerned citizens. On a given day, a park ranger might need to confront a camper who has set up his tent in a restricted area, warn a visitor not to approach wildlife too closely and investigate an altercation between two hikers. Park rangers also routinely perform safety inspections, including looking for possible sources of danger or things that could spark a wildfire.
Park rangers are generally assigned to the parks and historical sites where they work, and it is not unusual for the same ranger to work at several different sites throughout his or her career. Flexibility is an important job requirement for being a park ranger, as are good people and communication skills.
While much of the training park rangers receive is on the job, there are formal training courses designed to make getting and keeping the job a bit easier. Park ranger training courses are available from a number of sources around the country, including centers at Grand Canyon National Park, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia.
The salary of a park ranger varies quite a bit according to factors like experience level and job duties. A summer ranger typically starts with a salary of about $19,000 per year, while a more experienced permanent ranger can earn more than $30,000 a year. Many park rangers do not do the job for the money alone – instead they enjoy working outdoors and enjoying the beauty of nature on a daily basis. Park rangers encounter challenges every day, but there are ample rewards to the job as well.