Kentucky’s natural beauty draws people from all over the world to visit the Commonwealth. Natural landmarks in the state include caves, shorelines, mountains, and woodlands. Tourism is one of the top industries in Kentucky, and tourists spent almost $7.8 billion in 2012 alone.
The 52 state parks maintained by the Kentucky Department of State Parks, and four additional national parks located in the state are a big draw for tourists and Kentuckians alike. They include the following:
- 24 recreation parks
- 17 resort parks
- 11 historic parks
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While many of Kentucky’s state parks are highly popular, two parks in particular stand out in attracting visitors. The first is Natural Bridge State Resort Park. The park boasts a sandstone arch that is 78 feet long and provides spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. In addition, the park has many amenities for visitors including lodge rooms, cottages, and a campground.
Another popular state park in Kentucky is the John James Audubon State Park. The site was his former home, and its museum features his artwork, publications, and memorabilia.
Park managers oversee these state parks and perform the functions that are normally attributed to park rangers. They work for the state’s Tourism, Arts, & Heritage Cabinet. In contrast, the professionals who perform these tasks at the national parks in Kentucky are park rangers who are federal employees of the National Park Service.
Requirements to Become a State Park Ranger in Kentucky
Park manager positions in the Commonwealth of Kentucky involve both managing parks and performing work that is necessary to keep them operating smoothly. This can range from carrying out maintenance to educating the public about the natural resources of the park.
- Must be at least 20 years when appointed
- Bachelor’s degree
Having practical experience in one of the following areas can substitute for the educational requirement:
- Business administration
- Public administration
Each year of experience can substitute for a year of college.
Screening Steps in the Hiring Process:
- Drug screen
- Background check
- Maintaining a valid driver’s license
- Being required to drive a vehicle
Some of the duties for this position include the following:
- Facility maintenance and operations
- Maintaining the following:
- Equipment and supplies inventory
- Reports and business records
- Public relations with guests
- Preparing operational reports and records
Requirements to Become a Federal Park Ranger in Kentucky
Kentucky’s national parks drew over 1.6 million visitors in 2013. Such visitors provided over $103 million in economic benefits to the Commonwealth in 2012. The National Park Service maintains the following parks in Kentucky that provide over 1 million acres of wilderness:
- Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area
- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Mammoth Cave National Park in particular is world famous for its large number of caves. Its cave system is the longest known in the world, and over 367 miles of caves have been explored. In addition, horseback riding and camping are popular in this park. The Nolin and Green rivers provide miles of waters that can be navigated or used for fishing.
Some of the national parks in Kentucky are sites with a great deal of historic value. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park played a pivotal role in the Civil War. In addition, its mountain pass was a major artery for settlers traveling to settle “the Old West.” The forced removal of the Cherokee people and their survival despite this is commemorated in the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Federal park rangers provide protection to both the national parks and those who visit them. The federal government has two career tracks for its park rangers. Applicants for these types of positions can apply at the GS-05 or GS-07 level. The requirements for these levels are quite different and are described below.
Basic Requirements for Both Levels:
- Valid driver’s license
- Being at least 21 years old
- GS-05: Bachelor’s degree including 24 hours of relevant courses such as the following:
- Fish and wildlife management
- Law enforcement
- GS-07: One year of graduate study in a relevant field
Applicants without formal college training can still apply for positions as federal park rangers if they have the following types of backgrounds:
- GS-05: Work at the GS-04 level that can include the following:
- A park guide
- A law enforcement officer
- GS-07: Experience using law enforcement skills to protect parks and/or visitors
Experience and education can be combined to meet these requirements.
Kentucky Park Ranger Salaries
Information released by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet reveals that the starting park ranger salary in Kentucky is a minimum of $28,248.48. Some of the parks in which park rangers in Kentucky are employed include Boone Station State Historic Site in Lexington and E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville. Perhaps the most well known site is Mammoth Cave National Park, which at 400 total miles in length makes it the world’s longest cave.
In Kentucky, park rangers go by several descriptions. Here is a breakdown of their professional titles and related salary figures:
Forest Ranger Technician I
- Minimum: $28,248.48
- Midpoint: $37,419.36
Forest Ranger Technician II
- Minimum: $31,071.12
- Midpoint: $41,161.20
Forest Ranger Technician III
- Minimum: $34,178.64
- Midpoint: $45,500.16
Again, it’s important to mention that park rangers take on a variety of different tasks in their profession, and so they are often recognized with various titles. The tables below display basic entry-level salary data for these titles:
Recreation Workers Salaries in Kentucky
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Kentucky
Recreational Protective Workers Salaries in Kentucky
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
Established under the National Park Service in 1949, Cumberland Gap boasts a unique location between the states of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. The historic park is literally an immense gap between the Appalachian Mountains. The area possesses a rich history and was essential to the survival of Native American tribes in the area. Migratory animals used the gap to cross to other areas of the mountain, and therefore provided the tribe with plenty of game hunting opportunities.
Today, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park offers visitors over 20,500 acres of pristine Appalachian Mountain territories to explore. Families, couples and friends who are looking for an outdoor adventure will come across a wild array of recreational activities such as hiking and camping.
Park rangers here ensure that park regulations are enforced at all times. For example, horses and bicycles are only permitted in designated trails within the park. It is a park ranger’s duty to enforce adherence to this policy. Some activities will also require special permits, such as collecting specimens for research purposes, taking photos for commercial use and holding special events and assemblies. Park rangers are involved in managing these types of activities as well.
Park rangers also review and enforce other park regulations relating to wildlife protection, fishing, and camping, pets and alcohol consumption within park grounds.
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park Recreational Features
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park features plenty of places and activities for visitors looking for recreation, including:
The Pinnacle Overlook – After a four-mile drive up the Skyland Road, visitors will arrive at the Pinnacle Overlook. Soaring 2,240 feet above ground level, the Pinnacle Overlook offers an unparalleled view Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Park rangers ensure visitor safety, especially during times of inclement weather.
Gap Cave Tours –Tours inside the Gap Cave (formerly known as Cudjo’s Caves) are also among the most popular activities at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Facilitated by park rangers, the tour takes visitors on a two-hour exploration along the four levels of the cave, which totals to a mile and half. To ensure safety, visitors are required to wear proper hiking footwear, which means open-toed shoes are not allowed. Only children above the age of five are allowed to go on the tour.
Hensley Settlement Tours – Another park-ranger led activity that park visitors can enjoy is the popular Hensley Settlement Tour. This tour features a small village that dates back to 1845. Visitors will find a dozen log cabins, a spring house, a blacksmith’s shop and even a one-room schoolhouse.
Wilderness Road Campground – Cumberland Gap also features 160 camping sites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors must proceed with caution, however, since the backcountry is home to a population of bears. Park rangers must constantly remain on alert to these types of situations.
Jefferson National Forest
Jefferson National Forest is home to the highest peak in Virginia as well as some of the most beautiful regions of Appalachia country. It is so vast that it stretches across parts of Kentucky and Virginia, where lush hills, waterfalls and other natural wonders are abundant. Jefferson National Forest offers plenty of outdoor recreational activities for nature enthusiasts, including hiking, bird watching, horseback riding and more.
In 1995, Jefferson National Forest was officially combined with George Washington National Forest. Together, the two national parks cover more than a million acres of pristine land.
Park Ranger Duties in Jefferson National Forest
The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the park’s most popular attractions. Once used as a footpath by Native American tribes, this mountain railroad was also used as a track for steam locomotives. The Virginia Creeper becomes packed with visitors during both summer months and weekends. Park rangers ensure that peace and order are maintained.
The rail-trail strictly prohibits motorized vehicles. Hikers, horseback riders and bicyclers must abide by particular guidelines to ensure the smooth and safe flow of traffic, including making sure that riders dismount their bicycles and horses when crossing bridges and other hazardous parts of the trail itself.
Park rangers also keep watch for prohibited activities on the trail, including littering, target shooting and letting pet dogs run at large, as well as ensure that visitors don’t camp on private grounds.
Jefferson National Forest is a haven for visitors looking for an outdoor adventure:
Fishing at the Blacksburg Ranger District –The ponds, streams and rivers located at the Blacksburg Ranger District are teeming with everything from trout and bluegill to bass and muskie. The areas of Dismal Creeks, Craig, Poverty, Big Stony and the Pandapas currently provide the best fishing opportunities. Park rangers assist with fishing concerns and to recommend the best fishing spots to visitors.
Bird watching at the Bird High Knob – Bird High Knob is located at the Clinch Ranger District area. During the fall, the area becomes a great place to spot broad-winged hawks. During the winter, the Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Carolina Chickadee make an appearance. Bird High Knob also boasts more rare bird species, such as the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Rising Warbler and the Solitary Vireo. It is a park ranger’s duty to oversee all birdwatching activities and to ensure that the area remains a safe habitat for bird species. This includes preventing illegal hunting.
Camping at Various Campgrounds – Jefferson National Forest, along with George Washington National Forest, is home to several campgrounds. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area alone features the Fox Creek Horse Campgrounds, the Beartree Recreation Area and the Stony Fork Campground, amongst many others. Park rangers regularly patrol these campgrounds to make sure that campers are adhering to the campground rules. Falling trees and the appearance of bears are also not uncommon in the forest, so park rangers must educate campers about these dangers, as well as how to spot them and what to do in the event something happens.
Kentucky Dam Village State Resort
Surrounded by Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, Kentucky Dam Village occupies approximately 1,351 acres of land. The park’s proximity to the water provides visitors with an abundance of water-based activities, including fishing, snorkeling and boating.
Aside from water activities, the park is also home to a championship-style 18-hole golf course, swimming pool, public beach and riding stables. Since Kentucky Dam Village is also a resort park, visitors will also find lodging and accommodation options aside from regular campgrounds.
Park Ranger Job Duties in Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park
Kentucky Dam Village is one of the largest and most popular state parks in Kentucky. As such, park rangers have a diverse range of duties and no two days at work are ever the same. The park is home to more than 200 paved camping sites, which are open from April through October. A primary job for park rangers is to ensure that peace and order are maintained in each of these sites.
The space between the Lake National Recreation area features 170,000 acres of wooded area that is teeming with wildlife. Park rangers are tasked with monitoring interactions between wildlife and park guests. Given the extensive water area located within Kentucky Dam Village, park rangers must ensure that park-goers abide by all activity rules and safety precautions to avoid potential accidents and injuries.
Park rangers in Kentucky Dam Village are also exposed to other duties, such as planning recreational programs for guests, welcoming and registering guests and assisting in golf course maintenance.
Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park Recreational Features
Families and friends who are planning to have some fun and relaxation at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park will not be disappointed with the amount of activities available, including:
- Full-service marinas that offer group excursions
- Fishing boats, ski boats and houseboats for rent
- Fishing areas where guests can catch crappie, bluegill, smallmouth, largemouth, white bass and more
- Scenic horseback rides through the park and woods, with a guide
- Pony rides for children
- Swimming pool and public beach
- Tennis courts
- Golf course
- Picnic areas
Mammoth Cave National Park
Established as a park in 1941 and recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1981, Mammoth Cave National Park is without a doubt one of the natural highlights of Kentucky. The main feature and namesake of the national park is none other than Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave in the world.
The majestic limestone cave boasts a five-level cave system, of which only 355 miles have been mapped. Approximately 10 miles of the cavern are available for tourists and visitors to explore.
Park Ranger Job Responsibilities in Mammoth Cave National Park
The wild terrain of Mammoth Cave provides an exciting challenge for anyone seeking a park ranger job here. Governed by laws and policies that are aimed to protect both the park and its visitors, it’s a park ranger’s duty to make sure that these rules are enforced at all times. For example, consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited in the caves, public spaces within the park and aboard vessels transporting passengers. Visitors may unwind with alcoholic drinks only in restaurants, concession areas and other designated places within and near the park.
Flash photography, carrying firearms/other weapons, taking rocks or other souvenirs and vandalizing or otherwise defacing walls is strictly prohibited in the caves. Visitors are also forbidden from carrying backpacks of any kind, tripods and strollers when going on a cave tour.
At the end of each tour, visitors are required to walk on specialized bio-security mats under the supervision of park rangers. This measure prevents the spread of fungal diseases that are threatening bat populations. Visitors who have a respiratory or heart condition, walking difficulty and other health issues are discouraged from participating in the more strenuous cave tours. In cases where a visitor may require medical attention, park rangers are expected to facilitate the patient’s evacuation from the cave and transport to the park’s medical facility.
All of Mammoth Cave National Park’s cave tours are led by the park’s rangers. Therefore, aside from possessing broad knowledge of the Mammoth cave system, park rangers are also expected to have excellent communication skills, as well as physical stamina.
Recreational Activities at Mammoth Cave National Park
The Mammoth Cave National Park offers more than a dozen cave tours and these tours are classified according to duration and level of difficulty. To ensure visitors’ safety and an optimum tour experience, some cave tours will also have age and size restrictions. Visitors are strongly advised to carefully study each tour’s description and requirements in order to find the best one suited to their physical condition and abilities.
For instance, visitors who are looking for an easy-level tour can sign up for the Focus on Frozen Niagara Tour. The tour lasts an hour and 45 minutes and allows visitors to walk though the most photographed sections of the cave. Meanwhile, visitors who are prepared for a more challenging adventure can join the Wild Cave tour, the longest and most difficult tour of the park. This tour lasts for six hours and involves more strenuous activities for visitors to keep up with. These activities range from crawling through narrow cave passageways to doing freehold climbs up and down cave walls.
Aside from its famous cave tours, the Mammoth Cave National Park offers a variety of recreational features:
- Three campgrounds with over 12 camping sites. Sites range from areas in the heart of the woods to campsites along the river. Park rangers enforce posted regulations so that all campers, young and old, stay safe and enjoy the experience.
- Green and Nolin Rivers. The 30-mile river surrounding the park offers visitors a rich array of recreational activities. Visitors may cast their fishing poles in designated river areas for the chance of catching bass, bluegill, catfish and other game fish. It is a park rangers duty to regulate fishing and other water related activities.
- Paved and off-road bike trails. The park features a combination of paved and off-road bicycle trails. The off-road trails include The Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail and Big Hollow Trail, both of which offer 9 miles each of unpaved pathway. Park rangers are tasked with safety missions in the event someone becomes hurt, and regularly provide navigational support to park visitors who end up “off the beaten path.”
- Horseback riding. Just north of the Green River, visitors will find over 60 miles of sloping grounds and beautiful trails open for horseback riding. Again, park rangers are instrumental in providing navigational support, as well as assistance in the event of injury.
Hiking, bicycling and horseback riding within the park are all regulated by park rules. Bicycles are not allowed to go over 15 miles per hour in most bike trails and horseback riders are not allowed to venture from marked trails. It is the park rangers’ job to ensure that visitors are abiding by posted park guidelines.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Located about 52 miles southeast of Lexington is the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. The park’s name can be attributed to its most popular feature—an astounding natural sandstone bridge that resulted from millions of years of weathering. The arch is 78 feet in length and is suspended approximately 65 feet from the ground. Enclosed by the lush Daniel Boone National Forest, the Natural Bridge State Resort Park is also a nature preserve that is home to a variety of wildlife, including some species that are endangered.
Park rangers at the Natural Bridge State Resort Park are expected to participate in recreational and educational programs and activities within the park— and in some cases, taking charge of them. Aside from this, a park ranger protects both the park and its visitors by making sure that rules and regulations are enforced and obeyed within the premises.
Park Ranger Job Duties at Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is a sanctuary for trees, plants and wildlife and it is the park ranger’s duties to ensure that all flora and fauna are protected. Removing plants, defacing/damaging rock formations and injuring animals are also strictly forbidden. Park rangers also work alongside animal control officers in order to seize dogs that are running at large within the park.
The Kentucky Department of Parks has also designated swimming areas within the park property. Bathing and swimming in areas that are not within this designated swimming area is also prohibited. It’s a park ranger’s job to ensure that visitors follow these swimming regulations, since both visitors and fish are put at risk when they are disobeyed.
Park Rangers at the Natural Bridge State Resort Park monitor restricted activities among the park’s visitors as well. These restricted activities include horseback riding, using metal detectors, building camp fires and collecting natural materials for scientific purposes. The park is home to two campgrounds, both of which have published rules and regulations that all campers must follow. Any park visitor found to be breaking these rules may be removed—or in some extreme cases, arrested—by the park ranger.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park Recreational Features
As a resort park, Natural Bridge offers a wide array of accommodation options to park visitors. There are two seasonal campgrounds within the premises, which feature more than 80 camp sites. Tucked in a cozy mountainside area is the Hemlock Lodge, which features private balconies and breathtaking views of Hoedown Island. Fully-furnished rustic family cottages are also available.
The Natural Bridge State Resort Park also offers a smorgasbord of recreational activities for families on vacation or friends and couples looking for outdoor adventure:
- Over a dozen hiking trails that amount to 22 miles in total, the longest being the Sand Gap Trail which is approximately 7.5 miles
- Educational programs where children can safely interact with wildlife creatures, under the supervision of a park ranger or other park officers
- Kayak rentals, pedal boats, swimming and other water-based activities
- Picnic shelters
- Multiple playgrounds
- 18-hole miniature golf course
- Skylift rides to the 65-feet-high natural sandstone bridge
Due to the number of activities that rangers facilitate, a day in the life of a park ranger at Natural Bridge is never dull, and no two days are ever the same.