My husband was one of the last rangers to be hired before they stopped taking applications last year, was laid off, worked as a volunteer, then a Park Aide, then rehired as a Ranger. We've lived at three different parks and been to a bunch of commission meetings, so for better or worse, I know way more than I would like about the hiring process and life as a Ranger. But I don't work for parks, so this is all just my opinion.
It can be an incredibly fun and rewarding career for the right person. If you or anyone you know is interested in applying, here are some useful things to know:
- National Parks have two types of Rangers: Interpretive and Law Enforcement. State Parks only has one type and they are all Law Enforcement positions.
- It's a true generalist position. You have to be able and willing to undergo the training to be a commissioned law enforcement officer, but at most parks the majority of your time will be spent on less exciting things. It varies a lot from park to park and with the time of year, but rangers do everything from: clean bathrooms, maintain trails, fix broken plumbing, check in campers, supervise Park Aides, shovel snow, supervise prison work crews, blow leaves, give interpretive/educational talks to community groups, enforce leash laws, enforce shellfishing laws, etc etc etc. The job application lists a zillion more tasks and you should read them.
- It is a law enforcement position. Once you get your commission you will carry a gun and wear a bulletproof vest. You'll have an extensive background check, drug testing, and a polygraph. So if you have anything in your background that disqualifies you from the job, don't bother applying, it will come out eventually. See the application for more details.
- You have to be willing to enforce the law and the rules of the park, even if you don't agree with them. Leash laws, vehicles parked off pad, laws about alcohol, shellfishing, etc.
- You have to work weekends and most holidays, especially summer holidays. You'll probably work kind of weird hours, like later in the day. It's hard to get time off in the summer. It makes it hard to do things with friends that have normal jobs.
- Most Rangers end up moving several times over the course of their career. If you're married, it's helpful to have a spouse that is supportive and able to be flexible in this department. Most state parks are pretty much out in the boonies.
- The pay isn't anything amazing (and much worse than pretty much any other law enforcement officer), but the benefits are pretty awesome. Many, but not all, parks have free housing, If you are able to take advantage of that you save TONS of money. You just pay a low flat rate each month to cover utilities, and you're generally on your own for phone/tv/internet/cell phones. The quality and size of the housing varies widely. Everything from crappy mobile homes to ginormous houses.
- What the application does not go into much detail about is that you will probably be sent to an academy to get your commission shortly after being hired. I don't know which academy they plan to send new hires to. Normally, Park Rangers go to the Parks Academy taught once a year at Skagit Valley College in Mt. Vernon. This runs from late December through mid-April I think. BUT, with the economy doing so poorly, and so few law enforcement agencies making new hires, they are actually getting rangers in at CJTC in Burien, so you could end up there. This is where most cops go.
- The fitness standards are ridiculously easy to get hired. However, CJTC has tougher fitness standards for admittance. Both CJTC and the Parks Academy require quite a bit of PT while you're there. If you're someone who is athletic and works out regularly, plays a lot of sports, or has a military background, it shouldn't give you too much trouble. But that's not everyone, and you should know that you may be expected to achieve a fitness level higher than what's on the initial hire fitness test.
- You're on probation for your first year. They can let you go at any time for any reason during this period.
- The funding for your job depends largely on donations from the public through this new, untested, opt-out donation via the vehicle license renewals. I _think_ so far the program is going well, but no one can predict the future. Layoffs are by seniority. However, they are very understaffed, even hiring 20 new rangers won't fill all the vacancies, so there is wiggle room if things come up a little short.
My advice to anyone applying:
- Get the application in ASAP in case you accidentally omit something or do something wrong.
- Make sure to read it carefully and give them everything they ask for.
- Be willing to work at any park in the State. This increases your chance of being hired. But don't put it unless you mean it.
- Be available for testing on the dates listed on the application.
Good luck to anyone thinking of applying!