By Elisabeth Wall
One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service (NPS), a new federal bureau in the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established. Today more than 20,000 NPS employees care for America's 400-plus national parks and other sites. They also work in communities nationwide to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.
Want a super cool job with the National Park Service (NPS)? Start now. Get outdoors. Volunteer. Earn a degree – generally the best areas of study are recreation management, law enforcement/criminal justice and the natural, social and spatial sciences, all of which can be pursued at Appalachian State University. Network. Travel. Apply for internships and prepare for six months to a year of being overworked and underpaid. And, for goodness sake, when you think you’re finally NPS material, use the online resume template the NPS posts – no exceptions granted. Apply at http://USAjobs.gov.
This advice was shared by each of three Appalachian graduates who have netted jobs as rangers in the NPS. Each swears the rigors of getting there are worth it.
Mark Spond, Appalachian’s liaison to the National Park Service as well as to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, said the parks offer a variety of career experiences.
“NPS units certainly preserve some of America’s most beautiful scenery and intact ecosystems, but they also present us with a record of America’s past and hopefully improved perspectives for the country’s future,” he said. “This diversity of park subjects can provide a rewarding career for students from a range of disciplines.”
The NPS has multiple divisions and is compartmentalized into regional offices (e.g., Atlanta, Denver) with central offices in Washington, D.C., Spond explained. For students who want to work within the parks, Spond suggests they research positions found on http://USAjobs.gov.
A good beginning for a would-be ranger is Appalachian’s Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) Corps – a student volunteer program offered by the university’s Office of the Liaison to the National Park Service and coordinated by an Appalachian Outdoor Programs graduate assistant. Valerie Brey is working on her master’s in college student development with a concentration in college outdoor program administration at Appalachian. Under her supervision, student volunteers work most Saturdays in the field, educating visitors and protecting the Rough Ridge hiking area on the Parkway. They meet every other week to learn from a variety of experts from the park service.
When they head out to the Rough Ridge area, Brey said, “They’ll have on BRP jackets and NPS nametags. They are hiking trails, interacting with visitors, answering questions about flora and fauna – that’s some of what they learn in the class sessions from the park rangers. They also protect the area … keeping folks on the trails, making sure dogs are not off leash, explaining the implications of a dog running off trail and adversely impacting the wildlife, maintaining the shelters and doing some light clearing and trash removal.”
The university’s agreement with the NPS Youth Programs, which was competitively awarded to Appalachian for 2015-20, allows the Office of the National Park Service Liaison to partner with any NPS unit through individual task agreements, Spond explained. “We have worked with natural/cultural resources, interpretation/education on the BRP; including reviewing information about parkway buildings, agricultural leases, and lots of wildlife studies – especially bats and bog turtles.”
Spond currently has an Appalachian graduate working as an archaeological technician at Great Smoky Mountains National Park through a cooperative agreement and is about to start another agreement with the interpretation/education division at Cowpens National Battlefield. Projects or positions through task agreements are reserved for current students and people who have graduated from Appalachian during the past 12 months, he said.
The Appalachian State University Office of the Liaison to the National Park Service is the central contact for initiatives that partner Appalachian with NPS units across the United States. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the office promotes opportunities (e.g., service projects and task agreements) that will mutually benefit university students, faculty/staff and alumni, as well as NPS units. Past projects have partnered members of the Appalachian Community with NPS natural/cultural resource personnel, NPS interpreters and NPS educational initiatives.
The best degrees for becoming a park ranger can all be pursued at Appalachian State University.
View undergraduate majors, including recreation management, criminal justice and the natural, social and spatial sciences