Park rangers are truly the backbone of North Carolina’s state parks system. The corps of more than 170 rangers is responsible for the protection of North Carolina’s most precious natural resources and for the safety of millions of visitors each year.
A typical day as a park ranger rarely ever is. It can include leading a busload of school kids on a hike or finding and patching up an injured hiker. It can include ticketing a speeding driver, monitoring a patch of rare plants, designing a trailside display or battling a wildfire. Also not typical is the extensive training rangers need to hone skills so varied. In North Carolina, park rangers are considered multi-specialists, performing tasks ranging from resource protection to education to public safety. (By contrast, some state park systems divide those tasks among rangers trained in different specialties.)
Rangers are required to have at least a two-year degree, preferably in a related curriculum such as parks management, outdoor recreation or resource protection. Schools within the state that specialize in such programs include East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and Appalachian State University. Within the first two years on the job, a ranger spends about four months at basic training to be commissioned as a law enforcement officer and completes another 200 hours of training in emergency medical techniques, search and rescue, wildfire suppression and interpretation and education skills.
Rangers also must enroll for certification in environmental education because of the parks system’s deep commitment to teaching visitors about the natural resources they encounter in the parks. This involves yet another 200 hours of workshops, research and hands-on work.
Many state park rangers and their families live within the parks they serve. Many have the chance to work at a number of state parks during their career. They share a special camaraderie with their colleagues across the nation and a special standing in the community. Job advancement is likely for a well-trained and committed ranger; park superintendents are very nearly always chosen from their ranks. The job offers a great deal of day-to-day variety, the chance to serve people and the community and the opportunity to have a special relationship with nature’s marvels.