Florida’s natural beauty entices residents and tourists alike to visit many of the 171 state parks and trails that are managed by the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP). Nearly 25.6 million people visited Florida’s parks and trails from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. The state estimates that they contributed $1.11 billion to Florida’s economy during that season alone.
Requirements to Become a State Park Ranger in Florida
Florida’s park rangers are trained in a variety of specialized areas and serve as the face of Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks.
The minimum educational requirement to be hired on as a park ranger with Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks is to have either a high school diploma or a GED. These positions receive a number of applicants, however, and having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a major related to natural resource management, park administration, wildlife science or another related area can help applicants to be more competitive during the hiring process. Some park rangers working for the state of Florida even have advanced degrees.
Required Knowledge and Skills:
The Florida Division of Reaction and Parks hires rangers for specific parks. Because of this, the exact requirements for park ranger jobs in the state vary depending on the needs of an individual park. For instance, some parks require expertise with horses, while others require their park rangers to know how to snorkel. Being certified to work with inmates is required for one park.
Depending on the nature of the job, other common areas of expertise, skills, and job expectations may include:
- Knowledge of:
- Florida’s ecosystems
- Resource management techniques
- Preservation and restoration of cultural resources
- Writing technical reports
- Verbal and written communication techniques
- Computers and related software
- Principals and techniques of gardening and grounds keeping
- Carpentry, mechanical and electrical repairs
- General maintenance of equipment and facilities
- Skills in:
- Using hand tools and small engine power tools
- Operating off-road vehicles
- Public speaking, program presentation, and writing
- Preparing educational, promotional, and interpretive materials and programs
- Working independently
- Planning, coordinating, and organizing work assignments
- Establishing and maintaining effective working relationships
Basic Requirements for All Parks:
- Having one of the following types of driver’s license:
- A Florida Class E
- An equivalent type of license from another state
- Being willing to work rotating shifts that can include:
- Being able to pass a drug screen
- Being able to pass a background check
- Being able to work outdoors in adverse conditions
- A year’s experience involving contact with the public
All new park rangers in Florida attend the Ranger Academy for two weeks of training. The rest of their training is either on the job training at their assigned park or is scheduled according to the particular need of a park.
Requirements to Become a Protective Federal Park Ranger in Florida
Park rangers for the National Park Service who specialize in protection are highly vetted to ensure that they have both expertise in natural resources and law enforcement skills.
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
- Being 21 years old
- Having a valid driver’s license in good standing
Experience and Educational Requirements:
- For a GS-05 grade level:
- One year of experience equivalent to the GS-04 level (at least)
- This could range from being a park guide to having law enforcement experience
- OR a bachelor’s degree with 24 semester hours of relevant course work
- OR a combination of education and experience
- One year of experience equivalent to the GS-04 level (at least)
- For a GS-07 grade level:
- One year of experience equivalent to the GS-05 level
- Experience involving the application of law enforcement techniques to protect resources and visitors
- OR one year of a graduate education related to this type of work
- OR a combination of education and experience
- One year of experience equivalent to the GS-05 level
State and Federal Parks in Florida
Many of the people who interact with park rangers have come to Florida to see the exotic wildlife in the state. In addition to the land occupied by national wildlife refuges, the state boasts over 794,000 acres of state parks and trails. There are 1,600 miles of trails that are administered by the state and 100 miles of sandy beaches.
The Florida legislature designated the Myakka River as the “Florida Wild and Scenic River,” leading to the protection and management of the 34 miles of river that runs through Sarasota County. Myakka River State Park is famous for the diversity of its wildlife.
Some of Florida’s national parks are world famous irreplaceable habitats such as the Everglades. The Anhinga Trail is particularly recommended for visitors who want to see alligators, cormorants, and wading birds.
Park rangers protect a number of rare animals in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge located near Cape Canaveral. This refuge owes its existence to the need to protect the land around the nearby Kennedy Space Center.
Manatees – A popular draw for visitors to Florida is the West Indian manatees that come to the state. Several state parks specialize in helping visitors view the manatees. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has an underwater observatory that enables visitors to see these animals daily. Park rangers direct interactive events throughout the day at this park.
Another popular state park that features these rare creatures is Manatee Springs State Park northwest of Orlando. Manatees swim up during the winter to take advantage of the warmer waters. This park draws scuba divers from around the world. In addition to the manatees, snorkelers can spot such sea creatures as turtles and longnose gar fish. Blue Spring State Park is another place to see manatees in the winter.
Sea Turtles – People seeking nesting turtles can visit the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. This is vital nesting area for both loggerhead sea turtles and green sea turtles. Park rangers work to protect these nesting areas from those who would disturb them.
Black Bears – Seldom seen in Florida, black bears can be found in Wekiwa Springs State Park near Apopka. This premier area for viewing wildlife also features such rare birds as bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers. Rare reptiles include crown snakes and the Florida worm lizard. This park is very popular with visitors in the summer and early in the fall.
Greenways and Trails – Florida has been a national leader in the development of its systems of trails. The Office of Greenways and Trails became part of the Florida Park Service in 2011. Park rangers manage these lands and interact with visitors. One of the most notable trails is the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway that runs for 110 miles throughout the state.
Duties Performed by Florida’s Park Rangers
The public services that park rangers provide can range from answering casual questions to leading visitors on guided tours. These types of tours vary depending on the particular park involved, but can involve the following types of activities:
- Nature hikes to identify plants and animals
- Guided tours of lighthouses
- Observing manatees
- Guided bicycle rides
- Bird watching
Park rangers in Florida have noted how variable their jobs can be, since their work covers an array of different topics. In most cases, however, park rangers implement their knowledge of biology to help manage the state’s natural resources. This can involve:
- Implementing management plans for vegetation and wildlife
- Using natural and chemical means to control invasive species of plants
- Implementing reforestation and erosion control
These park rangers also perform some of the physical maintenance needed to maintain the parks. To do this, they need to know how to operate a wide variety of equipment ranging from chain saws to ATVs.
Administration is another facet in the life of a park ranger. This involves documenting information ranging from wildlife sightings to the number of contacts with visitors. Park rangers have to be good at writing and using computers to document these details.
Florida Park Ranger Salaries
Information obtained from the National Park Service reveals that Florida is home to 11 nationally-recognized parks, and, in fact, these parks received more than 10 million visitors last year. Some of the very popular parks in the Jacksonville area include Amelia Island State Park, Big Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, and Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park. Others include Oleta River State Park in Miami and Skyway Fishing Pier State Park in St. Petersburg.
In Florida, park rangers are employed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The starting park ranger salary in Florida – FL is $23,482.94, which is equivalent to an hourly wage of $11.30. The salary cap for park rangers in Florida, however, is $38,958.26, and that is equivalent to an hourly wage of $18.73.
Some of the benefits which park rangers in Florida receive include:
- Healthcare insurance with choice of 7 plan providers, plus a prescription drug plan
- Life insurance
- Dental insurance with choice of 5 plan providers
- Vision insurance
- Supplemental insurance with choice of 4 plan providers
- Health savings account
- Reimbursement account
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 Florida
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Florida
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Florida
Bahia Honda State Park
With over 500 acres, Bahia Honda State Park is known for its award winning beaches—Calusa and Sandspur—along with a historic bridge. In addition to the main location at Bahia Honda Key, the park also features an island that can only be reached by boat.
Bahia Honda State Park is one of the top ten most visited parks in Florida’s state park system. Over 580,000 people visited the park in 2012. Many of these visitors benefitted from hikes led by a park ranger.
In addition to interpreting the natural and cultural resources of this park, its park rangers are also involved in park management. This ranges from administration to helping to manage the park’s resources. Management of the park involves striking a balance between providing recreational opportunities for visitors and maintaining and enhancing the natural conditions of Bahia Honda.
Several special natural features exist in this park. Bahia Honda State Park is known for its beach dune habitat, including a large silver palm hammock. In addition, the park has a freshwater interdunal swale that is unique in the Florida Keys.
Park Rangers and Resource Management at Bahia Honda State Park
The ecosystems at Bahia Honda State Park are fragile, and management efforts help to preserve them. This involves some large-scale projects that are carried out through the cooperation of a number of agencies. Park rangers help with these projects and work on interpretative projects to educate the park’s visitors about the need to protect the plants and animals of Bahia Honda State Park.
Protecting Designated Species – Rare species found at Bahia Honda State Park include sea turtles and least terns. Protecting their habitat is the primary way to manage the communities of these animals.
However, turtles and terns require special protection during their nesting seasons. The locations of the nests are marked, and rangers help to erect barriers around the least tern nests. Park rangers provide interpretive signs to educate visitors about the need to avoid these nests.
Restoring Mangroves – Efforts are underway to restore the mangrove wetland that is next to the Buttonwood campground. This involves opening up access to the Gulf that would allow a better tidal flow to the trees.
In addition, the mangrove wetlands next to the ranger residence are also in the process of being restored. This has involved removing the berm and exotic vegetation and improving the existing culverts.
Removing Exotic Species – Bahia Honda has a relatively low number of exotic plants compared to other state parks in Florida, but park staff, including rangers, work to remove them. Hurricanes frequently bring in new species of plants. For instance, after Hurricane Georges, Australian pine, tomato, and yellow alder appeared along the beach.
Historically, the most serious exotic plant threats in the park are the following:
- Laurel fig
- Brazilian pepper
The primary current concern is removing the laurel fig trees before they naturalize throughout the island. Some types of plants are of concern, because they are threats to the visitors. These include spiny and poisonous plants such as the following:
Protecting Cultural Resources – The cultural resources of Bahia Honda State Park such as Old Bahia Honda Bridge are irreplaceable and are vulnerable to a range of disturbances. This ranges from weather damage to vandalism from visitors.
One area of particular concern is that wreckage from the ships could surface along the southeast end of the park. Park rangers and other staff visit this area regularly to protect against vandalism. Also, park rangers have been developing interpretive signs that warn against collecting artifacts from both land and sea.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is comprised of 442 acres including over 1.2 miles of Atlantic beach on nearly three miles of coastline along the ocean. Over 750,000 people a year visit this state park, which is home to the historic Cape Florida lighthouse—the oldest structure in southern Florida.
Park rangers manage this park with two goals in mind: One is to provide quality recreational opportunities to the many visitors. The other is to preserve habitat for wildlife and native plants in southeast Florida, which is a highly developed urban area.
In addition to its wildlife, the park is home to 23 recorded cultural resources. Thirteen archaeological sites exist at this site, and seven prehistoric sites have been identified within the park. Its rich history includes having been a route for escaped slaves to travel to safety in the British Bahamas.
Roles of Park Rangers at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Interpretation – The most visible role of park rangers in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is that of interpreters of the natural and cultural resources of this park. One of the most popular tours at the park is that of the Cape Florida lighthouse. Park rangers provide guided tours of the lighthouse and the cottage that belonged to the lighthouse keeper’s. Displays of early island life are shown in this cottage.
Park rangers provide additional interpretive sessions when requested. These include an educational presentation on dune vegetation and a youth group program that discusses the following aspects of the park:
- Overall history
- Natural and cultural resources
Habitat Restoration – Park rangers have helped to restore over 300 acres of natural areas over the past several decades, including establishing mangroves. Part of the management goals for Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park includes developing interpretive exhibits along the nature trail in the mangrove restoration area.
The many birds that migrate along the coastline of eastern Florida land in the park to refuel before they continue their southward migration. The restored hardwood hammock at the park has become essential to them.
The birds can be viewed from 22 mist nets that are located on approximately ten acres within a restored hardwood hammock. These mist nets are open to the public from mid-August through early November.
In addition to restoring the forest, the state has worked to restore the park’s coastal grassland and beach dune communities. The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has been integral to these efforts by reintroducing native plants to these communities. Park rangers help to monitor the status of these plants.
Part of maintaining and restoring native vegetation to the park includes carrying out prescribed burns. Park rangers assist with controlled burns. The annual plan for the park calls for 38-52 acres to be burned a year to help restore the coastal strand communities.
Protection of Rare Species – Park rangers work with other staff from the DRP and those from other agencies to monitor and protect the rare plants and animals that are found with Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. This includes a number of sea turtles:
- Green turtles
- Leatherback turtles
- Loggerhead turtles
Park staff have monitored the nests of sea turtles on the park’s beach since 1980. Loggerhead turtles usually lay 60 to 80 nests a year at Cape Florida.
Additional rare animals in the park include the following:
- American crocodile
- Peregrine falcon
- Piping plover
- Statira butterfly
- Florida manatee
Managing Invasive Species – Part of the management of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park includes controlling invasive species of plants and animals. This includes removing green iguanas and black spiny-tailed iguanas. Cuban tree frogs are a relatively new species in the park that need to be controlled.
Raccoons are native to the park, but their increase in numbers has posed a problem to other species. Efforts to control them have focused on limiting their access to garbage. Individuals that harass visitors and beg for food have been re-located.
Over 120 species of exotic plants have been documented in Cape Florida. Four species in particular are considered a serious threat to the park. They include:
- Beach naupaka
- Brazilian pepper
- Lather leaf
- Day Jessamine
Current control efforts are focusing on buttonwood trees, which are a particular problem in the coast strand community.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is one of the largest parks in the U.S. and draws people from around the world to visit its unique ecosystem. The National Park Service indicates that over 930,000 people visited the park in 2011 and spent nearly $147 million in surrounding communities.
Known as the river of grass, the Everglades originally spanned from the Florida Bay to the Kissimmee chain of lakes. As the population of Florida grew, the state drained much of the original Everglades to control the flow of water to benefit urban and agricultural development.
One point seven billion gallons of water that once flowed through the Everglades now go directly into the ocean or gulf. As a result of these efforts, the Everglades are a highly threatened ecosystem. With the reduction of water entering the Everglades comes the risk of severe fires and invasive species.
Roles of Park Rangers in the Everglades
Federal park rangers can specialize in either interpretation for visitors or protective functions such as law enforcement. Both types of rangers have important roles to play in the Everglades.
Law Enforcement Park Rangers – One unique role for law enforcement rangers in the Everglades is shooting Burmese pythons. They are the only rangers who are allowed to shoot these snakes within the park. Around 100,000 Burmese pythons and other constrictors are thought to inhabit the Everglades.
These snakes pose a serious threat to the most endangered animals in the Everglades. In this habitat, there are no natural predators of the snakes. They are feasting on large numbers of the small mammals in the park and decimating their populations.
Interpretive Park Rangers – Given the large size of the Everglades, interpretive park rangers specialize in different regions of the park. They give tours for the public out of the following areas:
- Gulf Coast
- Royal Palm
- Shark Valley
Guided programs can range a great deal given the diversity of wildlife and manmade places in the Everglades. For instance, programs in Royal Palm range from exploring wildlife along the renowned Anhinga Trail to touring the historic Nike Missile Site.
In the Flamingo portion of the Everglades, park rangers give talks on the following types of animals:
Visitors have a good chance of encountering manatees in this portion of the Everglades.
Starting in the 1980s, park rangers started discussing the threats to the Everglades in addition to describing its wonders. This park is considered the most endangered and environmentally delicate park in the federal park system.
Efforts to Restore the Everglades
The federal government has made the restoration of the Everglades a national priority with over $1.5 billion federal dollars being invested in projects and initiatives in the period from 2009 to 2012.
In partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers, the government had a number of construction projects underway in 2012 that will help to restore the flow of water to the Everglades.
Raising the Tamiami Trail by building a one mile bridge is projected to allow more water to flow into southern Everglades. The south project for the Indian River Lagoon will restore more natural flows to this part of the park.
Developers had dug canals and built roads for a 55,000 acre residential development project known as the Picayune Strand Project that never got off the ground. Efforts are underway to plug the canals and remove the roads. This should facilitate the return of wildlife and natural vegetations, including the Florida panther.
The administration has also restored over 3,000 acres of floodplains along the Kissimmee River. It has begun implementing key portions of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that was passed by Congress in 2000. This thirty year program got off to a slow start, but has been accelerating in recent years.
Gasparilla Island State Park
Gasparilla Island State Park is among the top ten most visited state parks in Florida. Nearly 800,000 people visited this location in 2012, which has nearly 5,400 feet of beachfront.
The waters around Gasparilla Island are known for their sea life, and many prominent anglers have come to the Boca Grande Pass to fish for tarpon. Another draw for this state park is the Boca Grande Lighthouse. It was rededicated in 1986 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A number of protected species of animals can be seen on Gasparilla Island including:
- Gopher tortoise
- West Indian manatee
- Southern bald eagle
- American oystercatcher
Park rangers at Gasparilla Island State Park serve in a number of roles that help the park function smoothly. Among the most important is the interpretive role in which rangers explain the history of the island and its natural resources to visitors. Gasparilla Island’s park rangers also work to maintain the park, coordinating their efforts with volunteers that include members of the Barrier Island Parks Society (BIPS).
The Job Duties of Park Rangers at Gasparilla Island State Park
Park rangers at Gasparilla Island State Park do everything from conducting repairs at the park and maintaining the buildings and equipment to protecting nesting wildlife from humans and other types of predators. They are very effective at working with other people ranging from park service specialists to the many volunteers that give interpretive talks to visitors.
Managing the natural resources of Gasparilla Island State Park is an important aspect of park ranger jobs at this park. The rangers work in partnership with staff from other agencies, local governments, and the private sector.
Protecting Animals in the Park – A number of animals nest at Gasparilla State Park, and their eggs and young are easily disturbed. Park rangers work to protect the following types of animals:
- Gopher tortoises
- Sea turtles
The rangers employ a number of types of strategies to protect these animals. They range from law enforcement to establishing signs. Educating the park’s visitors about the need to protect nesting animals is another approach used by the park rangers.
Restoring Natural Communities – A number of exotic types of invasive plants have invaded Gasparilla Island State Park. Efforts have been underway to remove the following types of plants:
- Australian pine trees
- White lead tree
- Brazilian pepper
- Castor bean
Native species are then planted once the exotic species have been removed.
Providing Outdoor Recreational and Interpretive Programs – Providing quality recreation for the park’s visitors is another goal of the DPR. Park rangers help to enhance the visitors’ visits to Gasparilla Island by educating them about the park’s resources. This is done with the following methods:
- Museum exhibits
- Interpretation using the following:
- Regularly scheduled programs
- Outdoor classrooms
The park rangers lead beach walks and describe the natural and cultural history of Gasparilla State Park.
Coordinating the Park’s Volunteers – Park rangers are a vital to the state’s goal of expanding existing partnerships with local citizen groups. They coordinate the efforts of volunteers who carry out interpretative programs.
Members of the Barrier Island Parks Society provide a number of the interpretative programs at Gasparilla Island State Park. They provide the following types of programs:
- Lighthouse explorer’s clubs for children
- Scavenger hunt on the beach
- Wading to explore the sea grass flats
- A yearly seashell hunt that is like an Easter egg hunt
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Located 55 miles north of Tampa, Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park has several claims to fame that make it one of the most popular attractions in the region. This park has some spectacular examples of Florida wildlife, including both wild manatees and those that reside at the park.
One unique feature of Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park is an underwater observatory for viewing these manatees. The park also has a 1,600-foot wildlife walk that showcases many of the animals that are indigenous to the area. Visitors can view cougars, bobcats, bears, otters, and a large variety of birds.
In addition to plants and animals that are native to Florida, a famous hippopotamus lives at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park and is very popular with visitors. Lu celebrated his 50th birthday in 2010.
This hippo had starred in television and movie roles and ended up in Homosassa Springs as part of the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe that used to winter at the park. The Florida Park Service had planned to move all of the exotic species elsewhere when it purchased the park in 1989. Public support for the hippo led Governor Chiles to grant an exemption for the animal in 1991 and officially declare Lu to be a Florida citizen.
Park Ranger Educational Activities in Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
In addition to providing law enforcement services to protect the natural resources and visitors of Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, its park rangers play an important role in educating its visitors.
Even before visitors have reached the wildlife park, rangers introduce them to the park and the Florida Park Service. Both rangers and volunteers present educational programs at the park every day of the year.
Manatees – Rangers or volunteers offer programs on the endangered manatees three times a day at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. In addition to lecturing about the history of these animals, the rangers show manatee bones and tracking equipment. The park partners with the following agencies to rehabilitate injured and orphaned manatees:
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wildlife Encounters – Rangers offer this program twice a day. They introduce a native Florida species and then discuss its range, role in the ecosystem, and diet. This can include one of the following types of animals:
- Bird of prey
- Gopher tortoise
- Snake that is not poisonous
Alligators and Hippopotamus – Once a day, park rangers discuss the biology and history of the American alligator. After they have completed their discussion, the rangers introduce the park’s famous African hippopotamus and explain his history.
Additional Roles of Park Rangers at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Park rangers have a number of roles when they work at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. They are experts on resource management in Florida and implement wildlife management plans. In particular, these park rangers must be experts in the biology of manatees, since Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park plays a pivotal role in rehabilitating injured animals of this type.
Keeping detailed records about the care of wildlife in the park is another aspect of the jobs of park rangers. The state of Florida requires a number of forms on a wide range of subjects, and the rangers must be knowledgeable about them.
In addition to roles involving the park’s wildlife, park rangers also help to maintain and repair the park’s facilities including the following:
- Service roads
The park rangers at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park also supervise the volunteers that help with many aspects of running the park.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Honeymoon Island State Park had the greatest number of visitors of any state park in Florida for seven years in a row. More than one million visitors contributed some $46 million in direct economic benefits to the areas around the park in 2012 alone.
Originally known as Hog Island, the island was named Honeymoon Isle in 1939 when a developer built bungalows thatched with palms for honeymooners. Today, only remnants of these bungalows remain.
The park contains a number of natural features that its visitors enjoy:
- Tidal flats
- Mangrove swamps
- Osprey nests
- Virgin slash pine forests
Visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, and snorkeling in the warm Gulf waters, and the area is a favorite with shell collectors, as the Gulf currents bring a tremendous variety of shells to the beaches. In addition, the park provides several nature trails and areas for observing the wide variety of shorebirds that come to Honeymoon Island State Park.
Educational Activities Promoted by Park Rangers in Honeymoon Island State Park
Educating the public is one of the key activities of the park rangers that work at Honeymoon Island State Park. Job duties range from providing indoor activities for children at the Nature Center to leading walks along the beach that examine the following natural resource topics:
- The importance of sea oat habitats
- The reasons behind erosion of the shore
While volunteers lead some of the informational walks along the Osprey Trail, each Saturday, one of the park’s rangers leads a 45-minute walk for ¾ mile and discusses a different topic about the park.
One of the management goals for Honeymoon Island State Park is for the park’s rangers to interpret the park’s important cultural pre-historic artifacts to educate the public about the earlier inhabitants of the area.
Honeymoon Island State Park Resource Management
Park rangers at Honeymoon Island State Park work closely with scientists from other agencies to implement the long-term management goals of the Division of Parks and Recreation.
One of the primary goals for Honeymoon Island State Park is to eradicate invasive exotic plants. While this is a problem throughout Florida, particular issues that rangers face in this park include the following types of invasive plants:
- Australian pine trees
- Brazilian pepper trees
- Exotic grasses
- These grasses displace the sea oats that help to stabilize the dunes
Many types of ecological communities in Florida have evolved to respond to periodic fires. Rangers work with staff from the Division of Forestry of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to implement prescribed burns. These burns are followed by efforts to replant the areas with native vegetation. Planting is the sole effort that park staff undertake in communities that have not evolved with fire.
Park rangers work with volunteers to monitor critical nests such as the following:
- Sea turtles
- Wading/shore birds
Protecting the nesting and resting sites of shorebirds is a key task for park rangers in Honeymoon Island Park. This issue is of particular importance, since birds overwinter on some of the high-use beaches. Park rangers use a combination of educational and law enforcement approaches to protect these birds.
These rangers also use their law enforcement powers to enforce the protection of archaeological sites and their artifacts from crimes such as vandalism. They work with staff from the Division of Historical Resources to protect key sites on Honeymoon Island State Park.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Concern about the destruction of the coral reefs in the Florida Keys led to the creation of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo—the first undersea park in the country. Over 760,000 people visit this park each year, making it one of Florida’s most popular state parks.
While the park has tropical hammocks and mangrove swamps, most visitors come to see the coral reefs and their marine life. Visitors can view them by snorkeling or scuba diving. In addition, the park offers tours three times a day from an air-conditioned boat with a glass bottom.
The park rangers of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offer a number of interpretive programs, while also working to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the park. This includes protecting marine life and other forms of plants and animals.
Functions of Park Rangers at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
One of the official management goals for this park is to provide an interpretive strategy for the park as a whole. This involves educating visitors about the ecology of the Florida Keys, and impacts to it.
Park rangers offer programs for visitors on a wide range of natural history and cultural topics about the previous inhabitants of the islands. They offer tours of the reef from the glass-bottom boat and more directly through snorkeling, sailing, and SCUBA tours. These professionals also offer nature walks along the wild tamarind and mangrove trails.
The rangers at this park also serve as law enforcement officers. This involves patrols on the water to encourage safe boating and prevent damage to the fauna and flora of the coral reef. Park rangers also do their best to discourage humans and predators from disrupting the nesting of least terns.
Park rangers oversee the administration of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This ranges from preparing reports about the number of visitors, to physically maintaining the facilities at the park, including the concession facility.
Overseeing volunteers to the park is another aspect of the job at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. One of the main cultural resources of the park is the Key Lime Grove. Park rangers oversee the planting of key limes, avocados, and mangoes to keep the grove viable.
Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State Park is the fourth most visited of Florida’s state parks, hosting more than 846,000 visitors in 2012 alone. It is comprised of more than 1,600 acres on four islands (Black Island, Inner Key, Long Key and Lovers Key) that form a barrier between Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Division of Parks and Recreation joined forces with Lee County in 1966 to merge Carl Johnson Park with this state park. Its official title is now Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park.
Park rangers carry out a tremendous variety of roles within Lovers Key State Park. Their most visible is to offer a number of recreational and educational opportunities to park visitors. They also manage the numerous volunteers that help throughout the park. Providing law enforcement throughout the park, along with administrative services are also important aspects of the job.
The Job Duties of a Park Ranger at Lovers Key State Park
The park rangers at Lovers Key State Park are best known for their work with the park’s many visitors. Their activities range throughout the year and can include the following:
- Training beginning birdwatchers
- Leading kayak tours
- Explaining the history of Black Island
- Introducing the wildlife found in the waters
- Training in geocaching
- Exploring the shoreline
- Leading walks along the beach
- Giving tours of the estuary
- Lecturing on the islands’ sea turtles
- Nesting behavior
- How to protect them
Park rangers are also responsible for maintaining park grounds and facilities. To do this, they have help from a number of volunteers. Seventy volunteers donated some12,600 hours of time to Lovers Key State Park from July 2011 to March 2012.
Supervising these volunteers is another important job duty performed by park rangers at Lovers Key State Park. One key example of this was the 2012 renovation of the Mid Beach Pedestrian Bridge that had fallen into disrepair. The efforts of the park’s staff and volunteers resulted in an improved walking surface for the many people who use the bridge en route to their favorite beach.
Protecting listed species and their habitats is another role of the park rangers in Lovers Key State Park. They do this by preventing visitors and their pets from disturbing the nesting and wintering of sea turtles and shorebirds. Park rangers use a combination of the following strategies to do this:
- Education and interpretation
- Signs and barriers
- Law enforcement
Park rangers also work with the staff of other federal and state agencies to meet the long-term goals and objectives of the management plan for Lovers Key State Park. Before the state obtained Lovers Key, the islands were slated for development. In particular, Black Island had been massively dredged.
Efforts are underway to restore the five natural communities that used to exist in the park. They include the following:
- Beach dune
- Coastal strand
- Maritime hammock
- Marine tidal swamp
- Marine unconsolidated substrate (mud flats)
Eradicating invasive species of plants has been the first priority to restore these habitats. Park rangers have helped with these efforts. They have mostly succeeded with large-scale eradication efforts against Australian pine. In addition, they have been removing the following types of trees:
- Brazilian pepper
Once these invasive plants have been eradicated, the rangers and their helpers introduce native vegetation into the disturbed areas. They have been highly successful in restoring maritime hammock and coastal strand vegetation.
At times, part of the park rangers’ administration of Lovers Key State Park has included overseeing prisoners from the Lee County Jail who helped to provide labor for the plant species management goals of the park.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
With nearly 1.2 million visitors in 2011, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most frequently visited national wildlife refuges in Florida. Visitors to the wildlife refuge spent $39.1 million within the refuge in 2011. The total benefit to the local economy was $60.4 million.
This unique wildlife refuge is adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and is located on an extensive undeveloped barrier island. It is the last such area of wilderness on the eastern coast of Florida.
The mild climate of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge enables many subtropical and temperate plants to intermingle, providing habitats for a large number of wildlife species.
About Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
More than 500 species of fish and wildlife inhabit this wildlife refuge, including 21 threatened and endangered species. This is more than in any other national wildlife refuge. Endangered species in the refuge include the following:
- West Indian manatee
- Wood stork
- Marine turtles:
- Kemps Ridley
- Atlantic hawksbill
One species of key importance in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the 2000 or so Florida scrub jays that live there. They have been the subject of an extensive plan to revitalize scrub habitat. This also helps other less common species such as eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.
Park rangers at this national wildlife refuge have a variety of roles ranging from educating visitors on the wildlife and plants, to providing emergency medical services when needed. They work closely with the scientists who carry out the habitat restoration plans at the refuge.
The rangers have also prepared interpretive panels for the boardwalk and Oak Hammock and Palm Hammock Trails. The manatee observation deck at Haulover Canal is another place where visitors benefit from interpretive displays.
Habitat Management at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Park rangers at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge work with biologists who actively manage both the uplands and wetlands to ensure that the wildlife in the refuge have access to high quality habitat.
Rescuing Sea Turtles – Park rangers are called to act in times of crisis. Occasionally when the temperatures become too cold, sea turtles become immobile and helpless. This happens frequently enough that there is a rescue procedure manual.
In January 2010, over 2,000 sea turtles were rescued from Mosquito Lagoon. Staff at the wildlife refuge used airboats to rescue turtles that had floated to the surface. Ninety-five percent of them were endangered green sea turtles. One of the ways of warming the chilled turtles was to use the Kennedy Space Center’s heater that warms the space shuttle upon landing.
Controlling Invasive Species – Like most ecosystems, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is under siege from invasive plants. Exotic plants cover over 10% of the upland areas on the refuge. The most pervasive plant is Brazilian pepper. Biologists at the refuge use chemical and mechanical means to control these exotic plants.
Personnel at the refuge use heavy equipment to remove overgrown oak trees, pine trees, and cabbage palms to restore the scrub habitat for Florida scrub jays. Then, they frequently carry out prescribed burns to add nutrients to the soil and remove the undergrowth.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sebastian Inlet State Park attracted nearly 600,000 visitors in 2012. The park is world famous for its surfing, which is among the best on the East Coast. It is also the premier location for saltwater fishing on the east coast of Florida. Visitors also take advantage of the three miles of beaches and the Hammock Trail.
The site is rich in history and is home to a museum that commemorates the survivors of the wreck of the Spanish Plate Fleet in 1715. Even today, people still come to the area to try to salvage riches from the sunken ships. Another museum in the park depicts the fishing culture of the early families in Sebastian.
The park rangers of Sebastian Inlet State Park have a number of roles at the park ranging from interpreting the natural and cultural resources of the park to helping with the management of its natural resources, including rare wildlife.
Park Ranger Roles at Sebastian Inlet State Park
Interpretation – The most visible roles of park rangers at Sebastian Inlet State Park are their interpretive programs for visitors. These vary throughout the year, but can include tales of the park’s wildlife and history over breakfast at the Inlet Grill. Rangers also lead tours of the Indian River Lagoon by kayak. Visitors can rent kayaks or bring their own.
One of the goals of the state’s management plan for the park is to increase the frequency of static interpretive displays throughout it. Rangers design these displays to educate the visitors and encourage them to use the park’s resources responsibly.
The park rangers also train volunteers to be tour guides. The operation of both the Sebastian Fishing Museum and the McLarty Treasure Museum are designed to educate the public and enhance their appreciation of cultural and natural diversity in the area around Sebastian Inlet State Park.
Natural Resource Management—Habitats – The first goal of the state’s natural resources management plan for Sebastian Inlet State Park is to conserve, protect, and manage the significant habitat, ecological systems, and natural communities of the park. Removing exotic plants and animals from the park is a long-term project.
Park rangers are trained in the prescribed fire programs that are used to manage ecosystems. There are two emphases of prescribed burns in Sebastian Inlet State Park. South of the inlet, efforts are to use such burns to maintain the current condition of the beach dune and coastal strand habitats. In contrast, fire is used to restore these communities north of the inlet.
Park rangers are also involved in efforts to close unauthorized footpaths through the beach dune and coastal strand habitat both north and south of the inlet. Once this has been done, these areas are replanted with native vegetation.
Another specific goal is to restore the area around the cove. This involves removing exotic vegetation and replanting with native plants.
Natural Resource Management—Marine Turtles – Sebastian Inlet State Park includes habitat that is critical for loggerhead sea turtle nesting. It is located within the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. These beaches support the following:
- The second largest nesting colony in the world
- The largest nesting colony in the western hemisphere
The staff of Sebastian Inlet State Park participates in monitoring the nests of these turtles. There were 619 nests of loggerhead turtles in 2006 along with 74 green turtle nests.
The greatest threat to these turtles is the use of sand from inland sources to renourish the beach. This is partly due to the different nature of the sand and the formation of 3-6 feet walls of materials that prevent the turtles from pulling themselves onto the beach to nest.
Natural Resource Management—Beach Mice – The federally threatened southeastern beach mouse lives in the beach dunes south of the inlet. The mice have responded favorably to prescribed burns that have helped to increase the vigor and coverage of the grasses that the mice need to thrive.
Beach mice once lived north of the inlet, and federal and state authorities are working to restore this habitat in hopes of reintroducing the mice to the area. Part of the management to protect the populations of mice includes removing feral cats as soon as they have been detected. Other nuisance wildlife are removed as needed.
St. Andrews State Park
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman designated St. Andrews State Park as “America’s Best Beach” in the mid 1990s. This park in Panama City has over 1.5 miles of beach with white sands and clear green water. Over 890,000 people visited St. Andrews State Park in 2012, making it the third most visited park in Florida.
Park rangers at St. Andrews State Park interact with the public to teach them about the flora and fauna found here, as well as the history of the previous inhabitants of the areas. Rangers speak about wildlife and park history at campfires from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They are also involved in critical efforts to maintain the park’s diverse habitats.
St. Andrews State Park Resource Management
Park rangers work with staff from other agencies in Florida to help implement the Department of Environmental Protection’s management plan for St. Andrews State Park. One aspect of these efforts is providing protection for critical flora and fauna in the park.
This involves protecting the nests of sea turtles and shorebirds, thus helping these species to rebound from previous decimation. For instance, this can involve stopping people from harassing the birds. Preventing people from feeding the alligators at Gator Lake is another duty of park rangers when they are on patrol.
Parts of St. Andrews State Park evolved with a fire ecology in which the local plants and animals are adapted to periodic fires. Current management of the park involves carrying out prescribed burns to replicate these fires without causing damage to other areas of the park.
Park rangers participate in executing all aspects of prescribed burns in St. Andrews State Park. This can involve reducing the fuel hazard in the sand pine scrub and the Mesic Flatwoods. Carrying out prescribed burns in Shell Island is a fairly recent event, and park rangers have helped to work out the logistics of getting the burn equipment to and from the island.
Yet another aspect of resource management in St. Andrews State Park that involves park rangers is controlling invasive exotic species—both plant and animal. Animal threats to St. Andrews State Park include feral cats and coyotes.
The primary botanical threat to the park is Chinese tallow—a designated noxious weed in Florida. This species was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental tree and a source of soap. It grows vigorously, can produce up to 100,000 seeds from a single tree, and grows in a variety of habitats.
Chinese tallow is also drought resistant and crowds out native species throughout the Southeastern part of the U.S. Controlling this tree requires a great deal of expertise. For instance, the time window between cutting down a tree and applying herbicide to the stump is less than half an hour. Doing this during the tree’s seed production time can actually cause more viable seeds to be spread.
Additional Roles of Park Rangers in St. Andrews State Park
Maintaining the park’s structures, grounds, and facilities is a major part of being a park ranger in St. Andrews State Park. These professionals are highly skilled at maintaining park equipment and tools.
Carrying out administrative duties is another function of state park rangers in Florida. This involves preparing forms and reports about the number of visitors to the park, vehicle and boat use, and accidents. Park rangers also operate radio equipment.
Part of the mission of the staff of this park is educating the visitors and encouraging them to use the park’s resources in a responsible manner. Park rangers at St. Andrews State Park are skilled at interacting with visitors. They conduct interpretive programs, answer questions, and attempt to resolve complaints from them.