Georgia Park Ranger Training and Degree Requirements

Georgia is known for having a high quality system of parks.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of State Parks and Historic Sites operates 65 state parks and historic sites.

Park rangers in Georgia are frequently work in specialized positions.  Some have a high degree of training in working with the public, while others are more specialized in the protocols of law enforcement.

Some of the state parks that rangers work at include the following parks that are considered particularly spectacular:

  • Cloudland Canyon State Park
    • On the edge of Lookout Mountain
    • Its canyon is 1,980 feet deep
    • Trails include both a rim and backcountry trail
  • Providence Canyon State Park
    • Known as the “Little Grand Canyon”
    • Hikers have access to a backpacking trail
  • Tallulah Gorge State Park
    • Visitors come from all over the world to view this gorge
    • Kayaking is possible at some times of the year

Park rangers with law enforcement authority work throughout these parks and have the authority to arrest people who are breaking the law.

Georgia also has eight national wildlife refuges that employ federal park rangers.  Particularly notable is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge that has preserved about 403,119 acres of the original swamp.  In addition, 33,000 acres of upland habitat is being restored.

Requirements for Becoming a Park Ranger for the State of Georgia

The requirements to become a park ranger differ a great deal depending on the type of position.  As of 2014, park ranger positions in Georgia include the following types:

  • Interpretive
  • Enforcement
  • Facility maintenance

The job requirements also vary depending on what park is advertising a vacancy.  For instance, a park ranger for the Tallulah Gorge State Park would need to meet the physical fitness and skill requirements necessary to travel in and out of the gorge on a regular basis and routinely perform search and rescue operations.

The DNR is currently reevaluating the role of park rangers with law enforcement certification, as the department expects to cut back on its law enforcement capabilities by 2018.

Requirements for an Interpretive Park Ranger Position:

Interpretive park rangers in Georgia, often referred to naturalist curators, educate the visiting public on topics related to:

  • The history of sites
  • Forestry programs
  • The natural and scientific features of sites

The state of Georgia will accept applicants from a variety of backgrounds, and with varying levels of education and experience.  There are three different levels of education that can qualify an applicant, depending on his or her level of experience:

    • Bachelor’s degree in any major with no experience requirement
    • Associate’s degree with one year of full-time experience in one of the following areas of interpretive programming:
      • Cultural
      • Educational
      • Environmental
      • Historical
      • Recreational
  • High school education with two years of experience as named above

Although a particular major is not specified for those qualifying with a college degree, many park rangers hold degrees in the following areas:

  • Natural resource management
  • Forestry
  • Biology
  • Criminal justice

All applicants must pass a background check before they can be hired.

Requirements for a Facility Maintenance Park Ranger Position:

As of 2014, this position was listed as “parks and golf maintenance technician.”  The requirements to obtain this type of park ranger position in Georgia are more focused on practical skills having to do with facilities maintenance.  The minimum qualifications include one of the following:

  • Technical or vocational school degree in a relevant field

OR

  • One year of experience involving:
    • Grounds maintenance
    • Building maintenance
    • General repairs

Testing for Park Rangers with Law Enforcement Authority:

Traditionally, applicants for enforcement park ranger positions in Georgia who do not have POST training and certification have had to pass an entrance exam before they could apply for such a position.  The POST Council has adopted two types of tests that it uses depending on the capabilities of the testing site.

  • ASSET exam
    • A paper and pencil test
    • Results will be available in 10 days
  • COMPASSS exam
    • Computer based
    • Results are immediate

To be able to take one of these tests, candidates must first complete a copy of the POST Entrance Exam Access Form, which can be found on the Georgia DNR website.  The testing locations for the exams are also listed on this site.

The DNR analyzes the reading and writing scores from these tests.  They do not look at the math portion, although the testing locations require that candidates complete this portion of the exam.

Requirements for Becoming a Federal Park Ranger in Georgia

The National Park Service also hires federal park rangers with different specialties.  The requirements to become a protective park ranger with law enforcement authority are delineated below.

Basic Requirements:

  • Being at least 21 years old
  • Having a driver’s license in good standing

Educational Requirements:

GS-05:

  • A bachelor’s degree with 24 hours of relevant coursework

OR one of the following:

  • A year’s experience such as one of the following:
    • A park guide
    • A law enforcement officer
  • A combination of education and experience

GS-07

  • A year of graduate school

OR one of the following:

  • A year’s experience applying law enforcement techniques to protecting visitors and resources
  • A combination of education and experience

Georgia Park Ranger Salaries

The National Park Service reports a total of 11 national parks located in Georgia. Some of these historic sites include the Augusta Canal, Cumberland Island in Saint Mary’s, Fort Pulaski in Savannah, and the Andersonville National Historic Site.

In Georgia, park rangers are employed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, although the Wildlife Resources Division and State Parks & Historic Sites are also subdivisions which operate under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The park police salary in GA begins at $26,672.14. Officially, the Georgia Department of Administrative Services recognizes park rangers as Parks/Golf Maintenance Technicians. Their salary breakdown is as follows:

Parks/Golf Maintenance Technician

  • Minimum: $26,672.14
  • Midpoint: $36,744.55
  • Maximum: $46,816.96

It’s also important to mention that park rangers in Georgia have the option of pursuing additional career opportunities with the National Park Service. Here are some of those options by location, including salary:

Park Ranger (Interpretation) in Sandy Springs

  • Annual: $31,512 ($15.15 per hour)

Park Ranger in Atlanta

  • Minimum: $33,049
  • Maximum: $42,969

Additional entry-level salary data is shown in the tables below. This includes various titles that park rangers in various roles are recognized:

Recreation Workers Salaries in Georgia

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Albany GA
200
20550
Athens-Clarke County GA
610
17760
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta GA
2760
27230
Augusta-Richmond County GA-SC
290
25680
Brunswick GA
100
25380
Chattanooga TN-GA
330
23110
Columbus GA-AL
370
20280
Dalton GA
150
19960
Gainesville GA
80
25680
Macon GA
140
26020
Savannah GA
250
24320
Valdosta GA
70
19700
Warner Robins GA
160
21200
North Georgia nonmetropolitan area
490
23310
Middle Georgia nonmetropolitan area
290
20020
East Georgia nonmetropolitan area
120
27800
South Georgia nonmetropolitan area
530
21260

Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Georgia

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta GA
240
29390
Chattanooga TN-GA
130
20470
Savannah GA
250
22100

Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Georgia

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Athens-Clarke County GA
40
18170
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta GA
2610
21150
Augusta-Richmond County GA-SC
90
20010
Savannah GA
60
24830
South Georgia nonmetropolitan area
50
16910

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park is considered one of the most scenic parks in Georgia and hosted more than 254,000 visitors in 2010 alone.  The popularity of this park has to do with the fact that it is located near the major population centers of Ft. Oglethorpe and Ft. Payne, Alabama, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Park rangers at Cloud Canyon work for the Parks, Recreation & Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Their work strikes a balance between facilitating and monitoring recreational opportunities for visitors, and protecting the natural resources of the park.

The DNR has recently changed the job description for park rangers, giving them the following titles:

  • Interpretive park rangers are now Natural Curators of Preservation
  • Park ranger I positions are now termed Parks and Golf Maintenance Techs

Park Ranger Activities at Cloudland Canyon State Park

One of the primary roles of the park rangers at Cloudland Canyon State Park is protective.  The rangers patrol the trails in the park.  They are able to quickly travel to remote areas of the park using two mountain bikes that were donated to Cloudland Canyon State Park in 2010.  Having these bicycles enables the rangers to avoid using off-road vehicles that can damage the trails and cause erosion.

Rangers work with volunteers to provide a variety of exhibits and quality programs.  A center of these efforts is the park’s Interpretive Center that has nature displays compiled by a park ranger.  It teaches about the following areas:

  • Wildlife
  • Geology
  • Basic outdoor skills

One of the management goals of Cloudland Canyon State Park is to improve the appeal of the park’s exhibits and programs to a wider range of age groups, especially younger audiences.

Part of the outreach efforts for the park include partnering with nonprofit groups such as the Friends of Cloudland Canyon and the concessionaires Georgia Girl Guides to offer at least six special events at the park.  Events that have been planned include the following:

  • Summer Day Camps
  • Outdoor Adventure Weekend
  • Junior Ranger Day Camp
  • Fall Hayrides

Georgia Girl Guides offers family tours of the nearby caves.

The Lula Lake Land trust has partnered with the following organizations to expand the system of trails by 45 miles and connect Cloudland Canyon to the Chattanooga area:

  • Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
  • Lookout Mountain Conservatory

About Cloudland Canyon State Park

This 3,488-acre park straddles a deep gorge formed by Sitton Gulch Creek and has two waterfalls—Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.  Cloudland Canyon State Park also offers the most notable example of Georgia’s caprock falls.  This type of waterfall forms an amphitheatre when a stream meets resistant rock that lies atop softer rock.

The nearby system of caves is also a major draw for visitors to the park. The numerous trails in Cloudland Canyon State Park range from a short walk from the picnic area to one that runs along the canyon’s rim joining a series of staircases that descend to the canyon floor.

As of early 2014, Cloudland Canyon State Park had the following trails:

  • West Rim Loop (4.8 miles)
  • Waterfalls Trail (2 miles)
  • Backcountry Loop (2 miles)
  • Cloudland Connector Trail (9 miles)
  • Sitton’s Gulch Trail (6.5 miles)

Efforts are underway to build a 14-mile connector trail between Cloudland Canyon State Park and the Lula Lake Land Trust.

High Falls State Park

High Falls State Park offers visitors the rare opportunity to see a cascading waterfall in middle Georgia.  The falls are on the Towaliga River and spill over 135 feet of rocks.  Conveniently located off of I-75, High Falls State Park also offers a relaxing stop for travelers.  In addition, its camping opportunities make it a prime destination.

The 650-acre lake at High Falls State Park is a major draw, as it is considered one of the top fishing spots in Georgia for hybrid and white bass. High Falls State Park is one of only a few state parks in Georgia that offer a swimming pool, as visitors are prohibited from swimming in the river due to safety reasons.

The number of people that visited High Falls State Park increased 70% from 2008 to 2010, resulting in over 691,000 visitors in 2010 alone.

The Job Duties of a Park Ranger at High Falls State Park

Park rangers at High Falls State Park are most visible in their role of educating the visitors about the natural and cultural resources of the park.

Rangers facilitate activities ranging from canoe tours of High Falls Lake to night-hikes through the forest.  One important service that the rangers provide is self-guided education and interpretation programs.  Junior Ranger Camp is a popular activity for children at High Falls State Park.

Those who specialize in law enforcement protect both the park and visitors.  This can involve preventing people from swimming in the lake and the river, or patrolling the park’s 107 campsites.

Resource management related to both the park and cultural items, including the remains of the hydroelectric power plant, are also an important part of park ranger jobs at High Falls State Park.

In recent years, the staff of High Falls State Park has received help from Georgia Power.  The DNR has a contract with their Vegetative Management Services Section that provides access to emergency equipment around the clock.  High Falls State Park is one of several parks in Georgia that have benefitted from emergency storm clean up efforts.

Park rangers and management officials of High Falls State Park have increased their partnerships with the following non-profit groups to benefit the park:

  • Dauset Trails Nature Center
  • Towaliga Watershed Alliance
  • Friends of High Falls State Park

They have also been working more closely with the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

About 400,000 people a year come to visit Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge from all over the world.  It is one of the largest intact freshwater ecosystems in the world.  This national wildlife refuge protects slightly more than 395,000 acres of the Okefenokee Swamp, which is 80% of the total area of the swamp.

Park rangers and other staff at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge provide a number of environmental education and interpretive programs and activities for both individuals and groups.  These are designed to promote public understanding, appreciation, and action on behalf of this unique ecosystem.  This is particularly timely as an increase in development in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida threatens the integrity of the refuge.

Interpretive Activities of Park Rangers at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

The federal government established the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife” in 1937.  In addition to this, the management objectives of this national wildlife refuge include providing quality hunting and fishing opportunities to visitors.

In addition to containing a number of endangered and threatened species, the park also has a rich cultural heritage.  The park maintains a 1920’s homestead—the Chesser Island Homestead—to educate its visitors.  There are also artifacts from a 1920s logging town on Billy’s Island.

Residents of the counties around the swamp view it as part of their heritage.  Longtime residents of the swamp lived in relative isolation and used the Elizabethan language from the early colonial period into the 1900s.  They were known as swampees.

Rangers at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge provide a range of activities to educate visitors to the park.  These range from static interpretive displays and pamphlets at the Visitor’s Center to educational presentations.

Starting at the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center, visitors learn about the following aspects of the Okefenokee Swamp:

  • Its formation
  • Its five habitats
  • The National Refuge System
  • The importance of wilderness

They can also view wildlife directly from the back patio of the Visitor’s Center.

Rangers have prepared a number of written pamphlets that guide visitors as they tour the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.  A written guide provides a self-guided tour along Swamp Island Drive.  Numbered posts correspond to entries in the guide.

There are also guides to the walking and hiking trails.  For instance, the Visitor’s Center provides a pamphlet for the Canal Diggers Trail.  It explains the history of a failed attempt to drain the swamp in the late 1800s.

Rangers offer programs for the public such as the Family Nature Series.  This series offers crafts, stories, and activities for families and children.  Examples include describing the different types of species that lay eggs and experiencing the sounds of nature.

Other presentations focus specifically on wildlife of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge such as the endangered gopher tortoise.  Another example includes teaching visitors about pollinators and how to make yards more friendly to them.

Red Top Mountain State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Georgia, with more than 721,100 people visitors in fiscal year 2010.

Although Red Top Mountain State Park is located on property that belongs to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the park’s rangers work for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Parks, Recreation & Historic Sites Division.

Park Ranger Job Duties at Red Top Mountain State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park has such a rich history and plentiful wildlife that it has its own interpretive park ranger.  This ranger develops, plans, and conducts all of the programs and special events at the park.

One of the features of Red Top Mountain State Park is a restored 1860s homestead—Vaughan’s Cabin.  The cabin is used to demonstrate what Christmas celebrations were like in the 1800s.

Civil war troops camped near Vaughan’s Cabin, and the park holds homestead events twice a year that feature the lives of civilians and soldiers during the Civil War.  In addition, the park holds rifle and cannon demonstrations to commemorate the Battle of Allatoona Pass that took place at what is now Red Top Mountain State Park.

The wealth of natural resources and transportation options at Red Top Mountain have been used for millennia.  Archeologists discovered an Indian site from 300 BC to 650 AD at what is now known as the Leake Site.  The interpretive park ranger designed signs along the Leake Mounds Interpretive Trail to inform visitors about the previous inhabitants of this site.

Special events that are held at Red Top Mountain include the following:

  • Bird walks in the morning
  • Junior Ranger Camps
  • Halloween hayride
  • Red Top Rumble
  • Hikes at night
  • Family Camp

The interpretive park ranger is in charge of marketing these programs and events.  The ranger and the park’s management work closely with the following non-profit partners to market the park and raise funds for improvements:

  • Friends of Red Top Mountain
  • Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites
  • Atlanta Astronomy Club
  • Cartersville/Bartow Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
  • Etowah Valley Historical Society

About Red Top Mountain State Park

In addition to having 12.5 miles of hiking trails, the park is located on the 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona, which is popular with boaters, anglers, and swimmers.  Also, Red Top Mountain State Park is within an hour’s drive of Atlanta and is only 1.5 miles from I-75.

This park is named for the reddish soil in its northwestern section that is due to its high iron ore content.  These mountains were the center of Barstow County’s large iron industry district in the 1800s.  Park rangers demonstrate iron pouring to members of the public several times a year.

The area surrounding the park has a lot of history both from the Cherokee Nation and the Civil War, as Allatoona Pass was the site of a famous Civil War battle.  Red Top Mountain State Park commemorates this battle with a periodic program that involves rifle and cannon demonstrations.

Hiking trails in the park allow visitors to watch birds and wildlife, exercise, and take part in geocaching.  The Iron Mine Loop Trail is nearly four miles long and takes visitors to an open pit iron mine.  One ¾ mile trail is paved.  It is ADA accessible and suitable for strollers and wheelchairs.  There is also a shared use trail for hiking and biking—the 3.9 mile Iron Hill Bike Trail.

Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of Georgia’s state park system.  This 2,739-acre park features a two-mile long gorge that is almost 1000 feet deep.

Over 302,000 people visited Tallulah Gorge State Park in fiscal year 2010.  Visitors come from all over the world to view this spectacular canyon with some traveling the 1,100 steps to get down and back from the floor of the gorge.

Park rangers at Tallulah Gorge State Park are kept busy facilitating educational programs for visitors, helping to manage the resources of the park, and occasionally rescuing people from the gorge.

Park Ranger Roles at Tallulah Gorge State Park

Interpretive – The park rangers at Tallulah Gorge State Park have developed the extensive exhibits in the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center.  This 15,000 square foot building features information on the rich history of the Victorian resort town that used to be located in Tallulah, the rugged terrain of the park and the fragile ecosystem of the area.

Other interpretive efforts by park rangers include planning, implementing, and evaluating special events at the park.  Some of these have included the following:

  • Rappelling
  • Whitewater kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Canoeing
  • Junior Ranger Camp
  • Hikes:
    • Full moon:  to view from the suspension bridge
    • Historical rock:  to view Victorian history
    • Wildflower
    • Waterfall:  to view all of the waterfalls in the park
    • Witches Head:  to view this rock formation
    • Holiday gorge floor:  to hike to sliding rock

Safety – Park rangers work to ensure the safety of those who have obtained permits to hike to the floor of the gorge.  The following agencies have worked together to practice long-line rescues from the Tallulah Gorge:

  • DNR
    • Law Enforcement Section
    • Search and Rescue Team
    • Tallulah Falls Fire Department

Officials carry out this type of rescue when an injured person cannot be moved out of the area on foot.  It involves a helicopter that hovers and lowers a basket or net to a crew on the ground, so the injured person can be airlifted out of the gorge.

Natural Resources Management – There are several types of rare plants in Tallulah Gorge State Park that require management to keep them viable.  While there are a number of reasons to carry out controlled burns, one of the reasons is to help rare plants and animals.

State agencies in Georgia have carried out five controlled burns at Tallulah Gorge State Park in the past decade.  They are conducted near Clayton and have improved the habitat for several rare plants including:

  • White monkeyface orchid
  • Roundleaf sundew
  • Turkeybeard

Table mountain pines also benefit from controlled burns, since they need fire to open their cones.  Ruffed grouse appear to be rebounding in the area, probably due to the brushy habitats that result after the burns.

Another aspect of forest management in Tallulah Gorge State Park is working to save the native hemlocks.  They are under threat from the hemlock wooly adelgid.  Professionals from the University of Georgia and the Georgia Forestry Commission are injecting the trees with chemicals to protect them from this insect.

Controlling the invasive kudzu is another aspect of managing the plant life at this state park.

The Waters of Tallulah Gorge

Tallulah Gorge has attracted tourists since 1819 and was known as the “Niagara of the South.”  As Georgia Power Company planned to build a large hydroelectric plant at the site, Helen Dortch Longstreets organized one of the earliest conservation movements in Georgia.  The Tallulah Falls dam was built anyway in 1913.  In 1999, the trail around the gorge was named for Mrs. Longstreets.

It is still possible to take advantage of the rushing water, as Georgia Power releases large quantities of water into the gorge on certain weekends in the spring and fall.  Normally, the water flow is 35-40 form cubic feet per second (CFS).  During whitewater releases, it ranges from 500 CFS on Saturday to 700 CFS on Sunday.  Kayakers come to take advantage of the whitewater.

Five falls thunder within the gorge.  The tallest of them is Hurricane Falls.  More fearless visitors descend 310 steps to get to a footbridge that is suspended about 80 feet above the falls.  The other falls include:

  • Bridal Veil
  • L’Eau d’Or Falls
  • Oceana
  • Tempesta Falls

Tallulah Gorge State Park has attracted some significant entertainers with two individuals crossing the gorge on a high wire.  These successful efforts took place in 1886 and 1970.  An estimated 30,000 people watched Karl Wallenda perform two headstands as he crossed on the wire in July 1970.  The falls are also famous as the location for the filming of Deliverance.

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