They say park rangers are paid in sunsets. Too bad sunsets don't pay the rent.
Yes, even though being a park ranger might look like a dream job to outdoorsy types, the tough reality is that the pay is not so great. To make things harder, job placement is super competitive; a lot of times a ranger has to start off doing part-time seasonal work just to get his or her foot in the door. On top of that, there are terrible work hours. When everybody else is off for the weekend or holiday, the ranger often has to be at the park making sure visitors don’t wander off a cliff or something.
Not for you? Then by all means click your way to another career....
Still here? All right Shmooper, if you're still hanging out that means you’re one of those people for whom sunsets might just be enough. To be happy being a park ranger, you've got to seriously love the outdoors. We're not talking like you saw Old Faithful once in the sixth grade and thought it was sweet when it erupted, or you roughed it one time in a backwoods fishing trip with your cool Uncle Pete. You’ve got to be down with hanging around outside every single day.
For some, this is a no brainer. They can only breathe easy when walking in the woods. To them, the sound of wind through the desert at night is as exciting as any rock concert. These people see a single rainbow over a misty lake and they get as excited as that one guy from YouTube did over a double rainbow. We're not even exaggerating. You seriously need this kind of enthusiasm for the outdoors to love your life as a park ranger.
Besides being a nature-y person, you've got to specifically be an animal person as well. When a confused elk wanders into the road and stops traffic in the park, guess who's called in to solve the problem? Yup, that's you. When a couple of campers get stuck in a bathroom because a she-bear decides to take a nap in front of the door, you’re the one who's got to swoop in and solve the situation. If the squirrels in your park somehow gain sentience and plot to overthrow the U.S. Government...well, that probably won’t happen, but if it did you'd be the first line of defense.
The best park rangers are also natural leaders, or else disaster may ensue. Let's say you're a park ranger who focuses on the education side of things, and you’re leading a group of sixth graders on a tour of the Grand Canyon. Hopefully, you're a good leader who knows how to prevent sixth graders from getting out of control when they get overly excited upon the sight of a canyon that's 18 miles wide and a mile deep. You know what happens when an overexcited sixth grader accidentally plummets through the air for a mile? Possible prison time. Sixth grader pancakes are frowned on in the state of Arizona.
Good park rangers have to be unafraid of being bossy. Some rangers are designated as law enforcement and are specifically charged with public safety in the park. This is no easy job because...let’s face it...the public can be stupid...like unforgivably stupid. Still, even if a guest gets himself or herself in trouble through sheer idiocy, it's the ranger's job to save the day. If workout enthusiasts decide that jogging through Death Valley in the summer without hydration is a great way to sweat off the pounds, the ranger has to be there to talk some sense into them, or at least to come rescue them when they find out how Death Valley earned its name. If an inexperienced climber thinks it's a good idea to do a 1,000-ft. free climb in a lightning storm, the ranger has to be there to say, "How big of an idiot are you on a scale of 1 to 10? Wait, I know the answer."
Some rangers have to be serious thrill seekers, or at least be the sort of person who's a quick thinker in high stakes situations. When that inexperienced climber gets trapped on a cliff during a lightning storm, somebody's got to go up there and get the dude. Man, we break out in cold sweats just thinking about it. All props to the rangers who do these kinds of search and rescue missions; they are seriously hardcore.
Certain rangers also focus on fire prevention. They do crazy stuff like parachute out of airplanes to put out fires, and less crazy stuff like starting controlled fires to keep the wild ones at bay. Well, either one of those seems like a pretty intense "day at the office" if you ask us.
So, there's the real poop, folks. If you've got the right kind of personality, being a ranger can be awesome. But if not...it's no walk in park.