Iowa Park Ranger Training and Degree Requirements

Both residents of Iowa and visitors to the state frequently take advantage of Iowa’s natural beauty by travelling to one or more of the 72 state and two national parks.  These natural resources provide opportunities that range from watching wildlife to camping and fishing.

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In addition to the park rangers who work for the state, other park rangers work for the federal government in Iowa’s national parks.  The requirements to obtain these types of positions vary and are shown below.

Requirements to Become a State Park Ranger in Iowa

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources requires its park rangers to have experience and/or education relevant to the management of public parks.  Once hired, recruits receive academy training to learn the techniques of law enforcement.  This takes place at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Educational and Experience Requirements: 

The DNR requires its applicants for park ranger positions to be knowledgeable of park management based on either past experience or a relevant college education.  Those with a high school education must have two years of experience managing a public park facility full-time.

Thirty college credits in one of the following areas can substitute for a year of experience:

  • Forestry
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Park management
  • Wildlife or fisheries biology
  • A natural science field that is closely related

College credit can substitute for up to two years of experience.

A third way to meet the requirements for experience is to have been a Natural Resources Technician 1 or 2 full-time for 18 months in a state park or recreation area.

General Requirements:

The state of Iowa has the following age restrictions that must be met by the date of appointment:

  • Being at least 21 years old
  • Being younger than 66
  • Having good vision:
    • Uncorrected of at least 20/100 in both eyes
    • Corrected of 20/20
    • Normal color

  • Having normal hearing in both ears
  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Being an Iowa resident by the time of appointment

Screening for Law Enforcement Training:

  • A background check to rule out the following:
    • Substance abuse
    • Arrest and conviction records that would rule out becoming a peace officer

  • A physical examination
  • Vision screening
  • Hearing screening
  • Psychological examinations

Special Requirement:

At the time they are hired, the DNR will give its recruits a time frame to obtain the following types of certifications:

  • Commercial Drivers License
  • Water and wastewater system operators
  • Pesticide applicator
    • Certified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Requirements to Become a Park Ranger with the National Park Service in Iowa

According to the National Park Service, Iowa’s two national parks generated about $11.5 million in benefits to a sixty-mile region around the parks in 2012. 

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The first of these parks is the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.  It includes the following areas to visit:

  • The cottage where he was born
  • The West Branch schoolhouse
  • The Friends Meetinghouse
  • The Hoover Presidential Library
  • The site where Mr. and Mrs. Hoover are buried
  • A tallgrass prairie

The other national park in Iowa is the Effigy Mounds National Monument.  This site of almost 1,500 acres has 191 mounds with 29 of them being effigies.  While there are other prehistoric mounds in the U.S., only those Iowa are arranged in the shapes of animals.

The National Park Service uses park rangers to protect these sites and interpret the biology and history for visitors.  The requirements to become a federal park ranger are shown below.

Basic Requirements:

  • Being 21 years old
  • Having a valid driver’s license

Educational Requirements: 

  • GS-07:  A full year of graduate school related to the occupation
  • GS-05:  Bachelor’s degree
    • Including 24 hours of related courses such as:
      • Archaeology
      • Fish and wildlife management
      • Law enforcement

Experience Requirements:

Applicants with one year of experience in the following areas will also be considered for federal park ranger positions:

  • GS-07:  Having used LEO skills to protect resources and visitors
  • GS-05:  Having worked in a position such as a park guide or LEO

Applicants can combine education and experience.

Quality Ranking Factors:

The following skills will make candidates more desirable:

  • Skill in operating power boats
  • Emergency response certification

The Splendor of Iowa’s Natural Beauty

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages a state forest system of 43,500 acres and wildlife areas that total over 350,000 acres.  In 2011, the number of Iowans who watched wildlife was among the highest in the country.  Over 1 million people who were 16 or older took part in this activity.  Fishing was the second most popular wildlife activity in Iowa.

According to an analysis by the University of Iowa, at least 13.7 million people visited Iowa’s state parks a year in the period from 2007 to 2010.  They spent over $700 million, providing a significant economic benefit to the state.  The state parks with the greatest number of visitors during this period had the following yearly average number of visitors:

  • Lake Manawa:  over 1.3 million people who spent over $72 million
  • Gull Point Complex:  over 1.2 million people who spent over $66 million
  • Big Creek:  over 700,000 people who spent almost $40 million

Visits to these parks are enhanced by the activities of the thirty park rangers who work full time for the DNR.  These professionals combine their skills in law enforcement with those of educating the public on conservation practices.

Iowa Park Ranger Salaries

Iowa is home to several state parks. Some of these include Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area in Lehigh, Big Creek State Park in Polk City, and Stone State Park in Sioux City. Also, Iowa boasts national historic sites like Effigy Mounds National Monument and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

Employment of park rangers in Iowa is through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Here is a look at park ranger salary in Iowa, as published by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services:

Park Ranger

  • Minimum: $45,760
  • Maximum: $68,785.60

Park Manager

  • Minimum: $42,140.80
  • Maximum: $63,211.20

Some of the benefits to which park rangers in Iowa are entitled include:

  • Health insurance – MCO, indemnity, and PPO plans
  • Dental insurance
  • Basic term life insurance $20,000 benefit provided by State at no cost
  • Optional supplemental term life insurance
  • Accidental death and dismemberment insurance $20,000 benefit provided by State at no cost
  • Vacation/paid holidays/sick leave
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Retirement Investors’ Club (RIC)
  • Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS)

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 Iowa

Area name
Annual mean wage
Cedar Rapids IA
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA-IL
Des Moines-West Des Moines IA
Dubuque IA
Iowa City IA
Omaha-Council Bluffs NE-IA
Sioux City IA-NE-SD
Waterloo-Cedar Falls IA
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Northwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area

Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Iowa

Area name
Annual mean wage
Dubuque IA
Omaha-Council Bluffs NE-IA
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Estimate Not Released

Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Iowa

Area name
Annual mean wage
Cedar Rapids IA
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA-IL
Des Moines-West Des Moines IA
Dubuque IA
Omaha-Council Bluffs NE-IA
Sioux City IA-NE-SD
Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Northwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area
Southeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area

Clear Lake State Park

Nestled on the prestigious 3,643 acre Crystal Lake in Cerro Gordo County, Crystal Lake State Park is one of the most popular parks in Iowa.  The park is open year round and offers a wide array of recreational opportunities to visitors.

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The unique physical design of Clear Lake State Park makes it an ideal habitat for many types of wildlife including owls, rabbits, raccoons, opossum, deer, and many species of songbirds.  Combined with the rolling lands and wide-open oak tree groves, visitors enjoy the park’s natural beauty and serenity.

Candidates wishing to become a Park Ranger in Clear Lake State Park must provide proof that they can meet all necessary requirements for a position of this caliber.  For the right individual, it can be both a rewarding and fulfilling career that allows for the enjoyment of the natural beauty that Iowa has to offer.

Park and Recreational Opportunities in Clear Lake State Park

Park Facilities – Picnicking is a popular amongst visitors to Clear Lake State Park.  The park features more than 10 acres of prime picnicking space that is complete with outdoor grills, shaded picnicking areas, playground equipment, picnic tables, and trash receptacles.  A day use lodge is also present, which can be reserved for larger gatherings including family reunions, weddings, graduation parties and anniversary parties.  Park rangers ensure upkeep of these facilities, as well as issue permits and enforce park rules and regulations.

Camping – Clear Lake State Park offers both tent and trailer camping, and has modern restroom, showers, and trailer dump stations that are easily accessible.   Park rangers ensure that campers follow specified safety procedures to ensure the well-being of all park guests.

Recreational Activities – Clear Lake State Park is a treasure trove of recreational opportunities, which keeps park rangers on their toes, especially during peak season.  The park offers more than 900 feet of sandy beach which is excellent for sunbathing and swimming.  Situated on the largest lake in Iowa, the park is the most popular for water sports including jet skiing, wind surfing, sailing, and boating.  Fishing throughout the year is always enjoyable, as Clear Lake is filled with northern pike, panfish, yellow bass, walleyes, muskie, bullheads, and crappies.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Effigy Mounds National Monument is home to the only known collection of hand carved rock sculptures carved by the earliest known Native Americans in the United States.  These rocks, which are in the shapes of a variety of animal figures, date back to the Woodland Culture that thrived between 200 A.D. and 800 A.D. and are still sacred to the 12 existing Native American tribes in existence today.   There is a great deal of speculation as the specific purpose of these effigy sculptures; however, their beauty and significance is still an important part of American history.

Park and Recreational Opportunities Available at Effigy Mounds National Monument

Guided Tours – Effigy Mounds National Monument features several walking and hiking trails that visitors can explore on their own. Visitors must keep in mind that the site is an ancient burial and ceremonial ground used by American Indians. Therefore, automobiles are not allowed and visitors must exhibit respect for the sacred grounds. There are also ranger-guided walking tours for visitors who wish to gain in-depth knowledge about the sites.

One of these guided tours is the Fire Point Trail Guide tour, an hour-long hike that covers approximately two miles. This tour has a total of ten stops, which include the park’s most prominent mounds.

Kids’ Educational Events – Educating children is an important component of Effigy Mounds National Monument.  Kids of all ages can take part in the Junior Ranger program, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day.  Children work with park rangers who lead fun exploratory activities throughout the park that result in earning special badges and tokens of their accomplishments.

Herbert Hoover National Historical Site

The Herbert Hoover National Historical Site is an expansive park that houses the remnants of the boyhood homestead of the 31st president of the United States.  Park visitors have the opportunity to travel back in time to glimpse into the well preserved cottage in which Herbert Hoover was born, as well as a blacksmith shop, his schoolhouse, and the Friends’ Meetinghouse that stood during Herbert Hoover’s childhood in the area.  The prominent Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum are modern facilities that have been erected to share the stories of one of America’s most beloved leaders.

To maintain and secure the park premises of the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site, the need for well trained and dedicated park rangers is of the utmost necessity.  Park rangers are required to keep the park in pristine condition year round, as it is open 362 days annually to greet visitors from near and far.  Interacting with visitors and providing detailed information about the sites and history behind them is only a small portion of a park ranger’s duties.  When it comes to the well-being of the guests and the grounds, there are instances when park rangers are required to take on the role of a law enforcement officer.

Job Responsibilities at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Herbert Hoover National Historical Site park rangers are the direct link between the park and guests and work under a variety of weather conditions to ensure safety to both park structures and visitors.  Park rangers patrol the sites and grounds during the park’s operating hours. The Presidential Library Museum, Birthplace Cottage, Blacksmith Shop, Friends Meetinghouse and Visitor Center are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Christmas, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving Day.

Park rangers at the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site make sure that visitors are complying with park guidelines at all times. Relic hunting, using a metal detector and removing any of the park’s resources or features is prohibited. Park rangers also patrol for other prohibited activities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Smoking
  • Littering
  • Hunting, feeding and otherwise disturbing fish and wildlife
  • Use of bicycles and motor vehicles in sidewalks and hiking trails

In cases of commercial photo shoots and special events, park rangers are expected to check with parties involved to ensure they have the proper permits.

Lost and found items are common in the park and it is also the park ranger’s duty to bring found items to the Visitor Center.

Park and Recreational Opportunities Offered at Herbert Hoover National
Historical Site

Self-Guided Walking Tours – The Herbert Hoover National Historical Site offers many self-guided walking tours that guests can take part in throughout the year.  Park rangers are available at the visitor’s center to assist visitors with maps and questions.

Nature Trails – Herbert Hoover National Historical Site is home to a variety of nature trails.  Guests can view the many species of trees, flowers, and shrubbery that grow along these trails. Park rangers are available within the park or at the visitor’s center to provide visitors with maps or to answer any questions about the trail exploration opportunities the park offers.

Picnicking – Shaded picnicking areas and covered shelters are available within Herbert Hoover National Historical Site for guests to utilize.  These picnicking facilities can be rented out for large group gathers including weddings, anniversary parties, graduation parties, and other such events.  Park rangers on duty will ensure that visitors have clean facilities and can provide assistance throughout one’s visit to the park.

Lewis and Clark State Park

Located on the shores of Blue Lake in Onawa is one of the most historically significant state parks in Iowa.  Lewis and Clark State Park is named after the famous secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark, a captain in the United States Army.

The history of Lewis and Clark State Park can be dated back to August 10, 1804 when the duo landed on this spot during an expedition to explore land recently purchased from France.  During a visit to the park visitors have the opportunity to explore a lifelike replica of the keelboat Lewis and Clark were traveled in with their 26 shipmates and supplies.

Today, Lewis and Clark State Park is one of the most popular parks in Iowa for family day trips and recreational purposes.  The park features modern facilities, spacious picnicking areas, safe and exciting playgrounds, a beach, and campground amenities. Park rangers oversee the grounds and work to create a safe and memorable experience for visitors.

Responsibilities of a Park Ranger in Iowa’s Lewis and Clark State Park

A park ranger in Lewis and Clark State Park is expected to fulfill many important responsibilities while on duty.  These individuals must:

  • Enforce all state of Iowa laws to insure the safety of the general public and state land
  • Administer first aid services to visitors of the park when needed
  • Protect the grounds, building structures, and guests against natural disasters that may occur
  • Lead trail and educational tours throughout the park
  • Prepare written and statistical reports as required by the parks department and state of Iowa
  • Provide information to the general public about the park as requested either through written or verbal communications
  • Maintain inventory of recreational property, supplies, and equipment belonging to the park
  • Perform inspections on recreational equipment brought into the park by visitors as needed when the safety and security of the grounds or guests are in question
  • Maintain campground through regular inspections, cleaning services, hosting, and other such duties
  • Use proper money handling procedures for collecting revenues and preparing financial reports as instructed

Park and Recreational Opportunities in Lewis and Clark State Park

There is a tremendous amount of recreational opportunities to take advantage of when visiting Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa.  The historical aspects of this park provide guests with the ability to view a lifelike replicate of the keelboat used by Lewis and Clark during their expedition in 1804. Park rangers offer educational activities based on the history of this famous expedition and what it means to the Onawa community today.

The trails leading through Lewis and Clark State Park provide the ideal opportunity to see the wildlife that calls the park their home. Guests can view a variety of trees, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and a wide range of bird species that are present throughout the park.  During special hours park rangers provided visitors with guided tours along these trails and point out the unique points of interest that this park offers.

Blue Lake offers Lewis and Clark State Park visitors a fine place for taking park in a variety of water activities. Guests can sunbath on the sandy beaches or enjoy a refreshing swim in the lake on those hot summer days.  Two boat ramps offer easy access to the lake.  While there is no lifeguard available, park rangers are always accessible and can provide first aid and safety measures when the need arises.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Featuring caves in every shape and size, limestone formations, rugged bluffs, and a bounty of ancient artifacts from years gone by, Maquoketa Caves State Park is Iowa’s most unique park.  Visitors will find that no matter when or how often they choose to visit this park, there is always something new to see and discover.  From plentiful fields of wildflowers that are present throughout the park in springtime to the Winter Wonderland visitors find during the cold weather season, Maquoketa Caves State Park is buzzing with activity, which means park rangers stay busy year round.

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The history of the Maquoketa Caves State Park area has been traced back many centuries to early Native Americans.  The land was purchased in the 1920s’ but was not transformed into the beautiful park visitors see today until the early 1930s’.  Guests have since been unearthing signs of the earlier times such as pottery, Indian heads, tools, cookware and more during their time spent in the park that tell the stories of the land.  These artifacts are on display in the park’s museum.

Park and Recreational Opportunities in Maquoketa Caves State Park

Park Facilities – Maquoketa Caves State Park is home to a beautiful picnicking area.  Guests will find that the playground within this area is the ideal location to let children explore the park’s beauty in their own way.  Guests have also found that these facilities make the perfect spot for weddings, reunions, graduation parties, and other large gatherings.  Park rangers ensure all rules and regulations are followed, which keeps both visitors and the parks wildlife safe.

Camping – Camping on the grounds of Maquoketa Caves State Park is a popular recreation activity.  With a spacious layout complete with mature pine trees, there is plenty of seclusion for a relaxing stay within the park.  More than half of the campsites throughout the park offer electrical services.  There is a modern shower facility for the guests to utilize during their stay.  Park rangers do everything from issue permits to enforce noise laws.

Nature Programs – Maquoketa Caves State Park has a variety of nature programs available throughout the park.  Park rangers lead foot tour expeditions based around cave exploration, historical factors, and overlooking bluff trails that are present throughout the park.  The park museum also offers a wide range of nature based programs based around the history and features of the park which are led by the park’s rangers.

Pikes Peak State Park

Pikes Peak State Park offers visitors the opportunity to step back in time.  With land that has never been used for developmental purposes, guests have the opportunity to view sheer walls of Decorah limestone and fossils that are present throughout the park.  Beautiful wood bluffs and breathtaking views of the valleys within Pikes Peak State Park offer a glimpse of the natural beauty that is still available in our world today.

Managing Iowa’s Pikes Peak State Park

Camping – With 77 spacious campsites, 60 of which offer electrical services, Pikes Peak State Park is a popular spot for camping in McGregor, Iowa.  A camp store located within the park offers refreshments, ice, and special souvenirs. Park rangers work hard to keep these grounds well maintained and the store stocked at all times.  They also enforce posted rules and regulations to keep both campers and the parks wildlife safe.

Picnicking – Pikes Peak State Park is home to one of the most unique picnicking areas in Iowa.  There is a large rustic stone picnic shelter and 2 open gazebos available for hosting picnics, family reunions and field trips.  Park rangers assist in rentals for these types of special events.  They also keep these areas clean and well maintained to ensure guests are able to enjoy their time in the park.  It is a park ranger’s duty to protect the beauty of the park itself, and they do have the ability to arrest visitors caught damaging or defacing park property.

Trails – Trails that wind through Pikes Peak State Park allow visitors the ability to step back in time.  These trails contain fossils that date back thousands of years ago, a sheer wall of Decorah limestone, beautiful up-close views of the Bridal Veil Falls, and refreshing springs. At times throughout the year park rangers do offer guided tours that give visitors the opportunity to hear the history of the various areas throughout the park.

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