Career Paths with the National Park Service

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The National Park Service (NPS) is a massive federal agency that includes no less than 400 national parks and a workforce of more than 28,000 employees (and that’s not counting the more than 2 million volunteers).

The NPS workforce encompasses a wide array of professionals, all of whom are instrumental for ensuring that this agency’s mission is fulfilled. While some NPS professionals, such as park rangers and park guides, serve as highly visible members of this federal agency’s team, there are just as many (if not more) professionals, from archeologists to biologists and beyond, who are just as vital to the success of the NPS.

Although the following occupations are just a sampling of the NPS’ diverse workforce, they do highlight the many career paths available through the National Park Service:

Education Specialist

Education specialists oversee and coordinate NPS education programs, manage the logistics of visiting school groups, provide educational programming, and assist with volunteers, interns, and seasonal staff with the Education Program. Education specialists also research, write and implement interdisciplinary curriculum about the national park and ensure that the programs meet district, state and national education standards, as well as the standards of the National Park Service.

Educational programs instituted by the education specialists of the NPA may include everything from guided walks and hikes and park publications to classroom programs and web-based material, just to name a few.

Park Ranger (Interpretation)

Park rangers in an interpretation capacity are involved with the park’s day-to-day operations. They may assist visitors with disabilities, and they may assist with visitor programs, educational programs, and recreational programs. Further, interpretation park rangers are often stationed at visitor contact stations, where they provide guided tours, interpretation, visitor services, and even crowd management.

Depending on the national park and its facilities and features, interpretation park rangers often:

  • Provide field and water-based educational and recreational programming
  • Provide formal or informal interpretative programs, including orientation talks
  • Provide historically or naturally themed educational programs for a number of audiences and groups

General Park Ranger

General park rangers with the NPS are responsible for supporting the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment and education of park visitors.

General park rangers may be called upon to provide both interpretation and protection services, depending on the specific needs of the national park in which they work. As such, general park rangers may do everything from assist visitors with park resources and provide emergency medical services to patrol the park and enforce park rules and regulations.

Park Ranger (Protection and Law Enforcement)

Protection park rangers with the National Park Service are certified law enforcement officers who are responsible for enforcing all applicable federal laws, rules and regulations of the NPS, as well as those specific to the state in which the park is located. The work of protection park rangers involves ensuring the protection and safe use of park resources. Their job duties often include apprehending individuals suspected of violating these laws.

Protection park rangers with the NPS, in addition to their law enforcement duties, may provide natural/cultural resource management services, emergency medical services, as well as rescue and extraction services.

Park Guide

Park guides are uniformed employees of the NPS who present guided walks and tour talks relating to the cultural, natural and historical areas of interest within national parks.

Their work involves:

  • Assisting with the park’s interpretive programs and projects
  • Working at the park visitor center
  • Building, rebuilding or maintaining trails and other access areas
  • Performing roving interpretive patrols throughout the park

NPS park guides spend their day providing information on current park events, projects, and policies, and are on hand to greet visitors and answer questions.

Wildland Firefighter

National Park Service wildland firefighters are members of fire crews and are therefore responsible for performing work associated with:

  • Firefighting
  • Fire suppression and fuels management
  • Backfire and burnout
  • Mobile and stationery engine attack
  • Helitack operations
  • Hover hookups

Specialized assignments for NPS wildland firefighters may include tree falling, backfire, and burnout operations.

Visual Information Specialist

Visual information specialists with the National Park Service are responsible for creating visual projects and content related to the national park website, to interpretation and educational programs. The visual displays are then shown in visitor information publications, and at exhibits in visitor centers. Their work involves evaluating audio, video, interactive, and user-generated emerging technologies to meet visitor experience goals and park outreach and public communications objectives.

These professionals incorporate technology into the park’s outreach, visibility, and marketing tools, and they plan, create, design and coordinate programs designed to develop and enhance the national park’s presence.

Physical Science Technician

Physical science technicians assist in the collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of physical science information within national parks. These NPS professionals conduct a wide variety of field and office duties related to topics such as:

  • Landslide risk assessment
  • Geomorphology monitoring
  • Paleontology research and outreach activities
  • Geological and environmental measurements
  • Managing and retrieving data from environmental monitoring equipment like weather stations and remote cameras

Archeologist

National Park Service archeologists carry out a range of duties related to the cultural and archeological resources of a national park. The work of archeologists involves conducting condition assessments of specific sites and features and ensuring that site recording procedures and tasks, such as the preparation of archeological survey records, are completed in a timely manner.

NPS archeologists often make significant contributions to the preparation of historic preservation documentation, and their work involves assisting in the analysis, conservation, and curation of artifacts according to NPS and professional standards.

Biological Science Technician

Biological science technicians, who work under NPS natural resource program managers, conduct both field and office work in the areas of biological monitoring, community-based volunteer programs, and natural resource information, among others.

Much of the work of NPS biological science technicians involves collecting and organizing field data and ensuring the adequate quality control of the collected data. Therefore, their job duties include:

  • Testing of collected samples
  • Recording of all data collected
  • Evaluation of observed conditions
  • Preparation of reports, plans, and guidelines

Biologist

National Park Service biologists may perform a wide array of tasks and oversee a wide array of programs within the National Park System. Their work generally involves monitoring park ecosystems so as to understand their current status and to better monitor trends in their condition.

Museum Technician

Museum technicians support exhibition and curatorial operations of the NPS. This may include:

  • Designing, fabricating, and installing exhibits
  • Maintaining collections databases for research and exhibition
  • Providing work in support of exhibitions, which may include inspections, curatorial cleaning, maintenance, and repair

Museum technicians also support interpretive program operations, conduct original research, and present both formal and informal interpretive programs and demonstrations.

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