Park rangers are considered the “backbone” of North Carolina’s State Parks System. The state’s more than 170 park rangers are responsible for the oversight of North Carolina’s natural resources and the millions of people who visit them each year.
Park rangers in North Carolina are considered multi-specialists, with their tasks ranging from education and public safety to resource protection.
Park rangers in North Carolina’s state parks manage more than 217,000 acres, which include state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas that are dedicated to conserving rare resources. Six new state parks have been added to North Carolina’s park system since 2003.
North Carolina has 34 state parks and another 4 recreational areas, with the beauty of this state’s natural resources stretching from Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks to Mount Mitchell, the highest point along the Eastern seaboard. The parks system began in 1916 when a group of citizens banded together to protect the breathtaking summit of Mount Mitchell. It since became the first state park in the Southeast and one of the first state parks in the country.
How to Become a Park Ranger with the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
Education Requirements – Individuals who want to become park rangers in North Carolina must, at a minimum, possess a two-year degree, preferably in a related field, such as outdoor recreation, parks management, or resource protection. Within North Carolina, there are a number of schools that specialize in these programs.
For example, a Bachelor of Science in Recreation Management allows students to focus their studies on a number of areas, such as outdoor experiential, recreation and park management, or commercial recreation and tourism management.
Training Requirements – All new park rangers in North Carolina must spend their first four months completing basic training as to become a commissioned law enforcement officer. From there, they must complete another 200 hours of training in:
- Emergency medical techniques
- Wildlife suppression
- Search and rescue
- Interpretation and education 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
Further, all park rangers must become certified in environmental education, which requires another 200 hours of research, workshops, and hands-on training opportunities.
Qualifying for National Park Service Jobs in North Carolina
The National Park Service oversees the nation’s 400 national parks. More than 27,000 employees work through the National Park Service, which was established in 1916. These parks now welcome more than 275 million visitors each year.
In North Carolina, National Park Service park rangers oversee a number of national sites, such as:
- Blue Ridge National Heritage Area
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
- Wright Brothers National Memorial
- Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
The nearly 4,000 park rangers with the National Park Service work in one of two domains:
Protective park rangers must be at least 21 years old, have at least three years of National Park Service or law enforcement experience, and be certified as an emergency medical responder.
Degree/Experience – They must also meet the requirements of the level, which includes possessing at least one year of specialized experience at the GS-4 level or possessing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, with coursework related to areas such as:
- Natural resource management
- Natural sciences
- Earth sciences
- Park and recreation management
- Law enforcement/police science
- Social sciences
- Museum sciences
Cultural park ranger candidates must also meet the requirements of the federal level.
Training – The amount and type of training for park rangers with the National Park Service depends on the job description. The National Park Service therefore operates three training centers:
- Horace Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon
- Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland
- Stephen Mather Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Additional training may also take place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, as well as a number of additional sites, including:
- Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation in Brookline, MA
- National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID
- National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV
- National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- Conservation Study Institute in Woodstock, VT
- Bureau of Land Management in Peoria, AZ
- Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center in Missoula, MT
Record-Level Attendance at North Carolina’s State Parks
North Carolina’s state parks enjoyed a record-level attendance in 2012, with 14.2 million visits, which matched the attendance levels of 2009 and 2011.
Eighteen state parks and state recreational areas reported attendance increases in 2012, with Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County reporting 1.24 million visits. Other areas that reported significant increases in visits during this time included:
- Hammocks Beach State Park (reported a 57 percent increase)
- Haw River State Park (reported a 31 percent increase)
- Jordan Lake State Recreational Area (reported a 35 percent increase)
- Lake Waccamaw State Park (reported a 53 percent increase)
North Carolina Park Ranger Salaries
In North Carolina, park rangers hold employment through the Division of Parks and Recreation, which is a division of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Some of the parks that they manage include William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh; Crowders Mountain State Park and Morrow Mountain State Park, both in proximity to Charlotte; and Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve and Raven Rock State Park, both in proximity to Fayetteville.
It’s important to note that park rangers in North Carolina work very much in a law enforcement capacity. In fact, their job title is Law Enforcement Officer (Park Ranger). North Carolina park ranger salaries do vary given individual qualifications, but the recruitment salary range is typically between $31,369 and $32,985. The maximum salary for park rangers in North Carolina is $58,715, which is nearly 47% more than their beginning earnings.
In addition, park rangers often perform in a variety of different roles and for that reason are often recognized by many titles. The following salary tables include those various titles and their respective salaries:
Recreation Workers Salaries in North Carolina
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in North Carolina
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in North Carolina
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which extends more than 70 miles along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet, is managed and protected by the National Park Service (NPS).
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which encompasses nearly 30,000 acres, was the first designated National Seashore in the United States. It includes expanses of natural sites, as well as a number of historic attractions, including three lighthouses and several lifesaving stations. Traveling along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, visitors will likely encounter everything from fishing villages and small, British cemeteries to pristine beaches and popular surfing spots.
The history of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is both long and rich, as this collection of islands and the Atlantic waters surrounding them have been the sites of:
- Civil War battles
- The death of the famous pirate, Blackbeard
- Native American settlements
- Billy Mitchell test bombings
- Hundreds of shipwrecks
- The birth of the United States Coast Guard
As such, the National Park Service works tirelessly to ensure that this region’s rich history and stunning natural landscape are protected for lifetimes.
The Lighthouses of Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Often referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” the position of the Outer Banks makes it very vulnerable to treacherous weather conditions. In fact, there are thought to be countless sunken ships littering the ocean floor surrounding the islands. A number of lighthouses have been constructed over the generations to guide ships toward safety, with three of them being located along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore:
Bodie Island Light Station: The Bodie Island Light Station, which includes a lighthouse and keeper’s quarters, was originally built in 1847, but work to finish the lighthouse had to be abandoned in 1859 due to poor construction. A second Bodie Island lighthouse was built in 1859 only to be blown up by Confederate soldiers in 1861 during the Civil War. The final Bodie Lighthouse, and the one that still stands today, was completed in 1872. The building next to the Bodie Lighthouse, which is still functional today, was transferred to the National Park Service in 1953 and now serves as a park ranger office and visitor center.
Cape Hatteras Light Station: The first Cape Hatteras Light Station was built in 1803 and still serves to protect one of the most hazardous areas of the Atlantic Coast. It is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands, of shipwrecks occurred here. After a number of renovations to make the lighthouse taller and more resistant to the harsh weather conditions and erosion, and a complete relocation of the lighthouse in 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse still remains a lighthouse, with the park rangers of the NPS maintaining both the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters.
Ocracoke Light Station: The Ocracoke Light Station was originally completed in 1818 but destroyed by lightning. The second lighthouse was finished in 1822, along with lightkeeper’s quarters. The National Park Service, through federal grants, later performed a structural analysis of the lighthouse and repairs and renovations were made. The Ocracoke Lighthouse now serves as the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation.
National Park Service’s Preservation Efforts at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The National Park Service (NPS) has been instrumental in ensuring that the sites along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are preserved, as the NPS has a guiding principle of preserving cultural resources for future generations. Just a few of the preservation projects undertaken by the NPS include:
- 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Buxton
- Keeper’s quarters at Bodie Island Light Station
- Double keeper’s quarters at Cape Hatteras Light Station
- Double keeper’s quarters interior at Ocracoke Light Station
- Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras
- Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore, as the nation’s first National Seashore, was created to protect and preserve areas of unspoiled barrier islands. Because the Outer Bank’s barrier islands are narrow and low-lying and parallel the Atlantic coast, they are constantly moving and shaping.
These dynamic islands are therefore susceptible to erosion, over-wash across the islands, and the formation and closure of inlets. Further, the forces of nature present here result in the development and change of grassland, dunes, shrub thicket, salt marshes, and maritime forest, all of which support a great variety of wildlife, some of which is threatened or endangered.
Fort Macon State Park
Fort Macon State Park, which is located in Atlantic Beach, along North Carolina’s famed Crystal Coast, is a 398-acre state park that welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors each year.
In addition to being home to seemingly endless sand and surf opportunities, Fort Macon State Park also serves as an historical landmark along the eastern end of Bogue Banks.
Just a few of the activities enjoyed at Fort Macon State Park include:
- Bird watching
The North Carolina State Parks System and its force of State park rangers oversee the sites and amenities of Fort Macon State Park. These rangers are dedicated to conserving and protecting the natural beauty, ecological features, and the recreational resources of Fort Macon State Park, all while supporting safe outdoor recreational opportunities to visitors of this State park in a safe and wholesome environment.
Job Duties of Park Rangers at Fort Macon State Park
Park rangers with the North Carolina State Parks System serve as important stewards of Fort Macon State Park, as they are responsible for ensuring the protection and preservation of its undisturbed natural beauty, much of which includes salt marshes and estuaries that are vital to the ecosystem of North Carolina’s coastal areas.
Many visitors to Fort Macon State Park explore its abundant and varied plant and animal life, including cedar, black locust and live oak trees, and sea urchins and sea stars.
Fort Macon State Park is home to picnic areas, shelters, a modern bathhouse, a swimming area, and a boardwalk, all of which are located just steps from the stunning beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
Fort Macon State Park rangers also oversee the management of Fort Macon, a superbly restored fort from the Civil War. Fort Macon, an impressive brick and stone structure, consists of 26 vaulted rooms, counter fire rooms, and even an expansive moat. Fort Macon’s inner court serves as the scene of historic reenactments. Around the Fort is the Elliot Coues Nature Trail.
In addition to their protective duties, which include enforcing Fort Macon State Park’s rules and regulations and patrolling the grounds and facilities, park rangers here are often engaged in the Park’s interpretive and educational programs, which include its history and its natural resources and delicate ecosystem. Park rangers also offer exhibits and tours for visitors, which include educational tours of Fort Macon.
It is also commonplace for Fort Macon State Park rangers to provide visitor services at the Coastal Education Center, a large exhibit hall that features exhibits related to:
- Barrier island ecology
- The natural history of the park
- Coastal North Carolina
- The natural and cultural history associated with Fort Macon
Park rangers at the Coastal Education Center organize regularly scheduled interpretive programs, as well as exploration programs for special groups and student groups.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is situated in the Town of Nags Head, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, serves as an unmistakable landmark for the millions of people who flock to North Carolina’s barrier islands each year. This “living dune” is managed by the North Carolina’s Division of Parks and Recreation.
Park rangers working at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are responsible for ensuring the protection and preservation of the ecosystems that exist within Jockey’s Ridge, while also serving as interpretive guides for the more than 1.3 million visitors that flock to this site every year.
Jockey Ridge State Park’s Diverse Ecosystems
The park rangers of North Carolina’s Division of Parks and Recreation oversee a number of self-guided hiking trails throughout the park, including Tracks in the Sand, a 1.5-mile trail that takes visitors through the fragile dune environment, and the Soundside Nature Trail, a 1-mile trail that focuses in the estuary and scrub thicket ecosystems.
Their work also includes overseeing Jockey’s Ridge 360-foot boardwalk, as well as the many activities that are enjoyed here, including hang gliding, kite flying, and sandboarding.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park consists of towering sand dunes, some of which are more than 100 feet tall. In fact, Jockey’s Ridge is home to the tallest active sand dune in the Eastern United States. Surrounding these dynamic, constantly changing natural forms is a massive state park that is home to no less than three, distinct ecosystems:
- Maritime Thicket
- Roanoke Sound Estuary
Dunes – There are three dunes of Jockey’s Ridge, all of which are examples of medano, or shifting sands without vegetation, although the base of the dunes are home to a number of grasses and small plants, including American beach grass. These grasses support a habitat for small animals and insects, and heavy rains often create small, freshwater pools that are used by wildlife.
Maritime Thicket – The maritime thicket surrounding the dunes and throughout Jockey’s Ridge State Park consists of live oaks, sweet gum, red oaks, pines, and wax myrtles. The height of the dunes provide protection to the park’s maritime thicket from the ocean salt and strong winds, although the trees are smaller than ordinary, causing them to resemble shrubs. A number of larger animals, including faxes, raccoons, and deer, seek refuge in the maritime thicket.
Roanoke Sound Estuary – The Roanoke Sound estuary serves as a rich habitat for many fishes, waterfowl, and the blue crab, an important segment of the commercial fishing industry in North Carolina.
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
The North Carolina State park rangers at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area in Henderson, North Carolina, are responsible for overseeing this massive State park, which includes the 50,000-acre, manmade Kerr Lake and its more than 800 miles of pristine shoreline.
The work of the North Carolina park rangers here is overseen by the North Carolina State Parks System, which exists for the enjoyment, health, education and inspiration for both local residents and visitors. Its mission involves conserving and protecting the State’s natural beauty, as well as recreational resources of statewide significance, which includes Kerr Lake State Recreational Area.
Park Ranger Job Duties at Kerr Lake State Recreational Area
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area park rangers are responsible for ensuring the preservation of the natural areas as to protect the abundance of wildlife that live here and to ensure that this State Recreational Area can be enjoyed by today’s visitors and generations to come.
Kerr Lake State Recreational Area, which is located just 45 miles from Raleigh, 110 miles from Richmond, and 180 miles from Charlotte, welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors every year. Kerr Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in the Southeastern United States, is home to a wealth of recreational activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including fishing, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, and bird watching, just to name a few.
Situated in North Carolina’s Piedmont region (which lies in both Virginia and North Carolina), Kerr Lake State Recreation Area includes no less than 11 recreation areas, all of which are operated by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
The 11 parks and recreational areas of Kerr Lake State Recreation Area include:
- Flemingtown Road
- Kimball Point Recreation Area
- Bullocksville Park
- Henderson Point
- County Line Park
- Nutbush Creek Recreation Area
- Hibernia Recreation Area
- Steele Creek Marina
- Williamsboro Wayside
- Satterwhite Point/J.C. Cooper
- County Line Park
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area holds a number of special events throughout the year, including a Labor Day Boat and Parade of Lights, Fourth of July fireworks, the Governor’s Cup Invitational Regatta, and a host of bass fishing tournaments. Park rangers here host many interpretive and educational programs throughout the year, as well. Park ranger-led programs are also enjoyed at Satterwhite Point’s visitor center and exhibit hall.
Much of Kerr Lake State Recreation Area is covered by forests, and much of the forested areas are typical of those that exist throughout North Carolina’s Piedmont region. As such, there is a wide array of trees found here, including maples, sweetgums, maple gums, American beeches, and dogwoods, among others. Along the shoreline, willows, river birch, and alder trees are commonplace.
In addition to preserving the natural areas of Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, State park rangers here are responsible for ensuring that the habitats for the area’s animals are protected. Just a few of the animals that call Kerr Lake State Recreation Area home include: white-tailed deer, raccoons, beavers, muskrats, and river otters.
Further, many birds of prey are found at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, including red-tailed hawks, ospreys, and eagles, as well as wading birds, such as great blue herons and egrets.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Wright Brothers National Memorial, which is located in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in Kill Devil Hills, commemorates the first powered flights by brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903. The Outer Banks in North Carolina, a small chain of barrier islands, has long been known for its steady winds, large sand dunes, and soft, sandy beaches, thus becoming an instant attraction to the Wright brothers.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial was established on March 2, 1927, and is now fully managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The monument and related exhibits have become a must-see attraction for visitors to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In fact, the National Memorial is situated on the same piece of land on which the Wright Brothers took flight in 1903.
In 1953, the National Park Service was granted permission to reconstruct two of the Wright brothers’ gliders in honor of the flight’s 50th anniversary. It was from this idea that the expansive visitors’ center and museum was built, thereby turning the memorial into an actual National Park. Since then, the Wright Brothers National Memorial has been one of the Outer Banks most popular attractions, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors every year.
Serving the Public as a Park Ranger at the Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Wright Brothers National Memorial, which attracts aviation enthusiasts, history lovers, and vacation goers, consists of a massive granite memorial that stands 60 feet tall and can be seen from many points in the Outer Banks. The memorial serves as the entrance point to the expansive national park, which features 428 acres of manicured grounds, which are dotted with markers that provide visitors with information regarding the Wright brothers’ launching and landing points.
Some visitors even visit the National Memorial by plane and land at the 3,000-foot First Flight Airstrip.
Among the grounds of the Wright Brothers National Memorial are a numbers of museums, exhibits, and a visitors’ center, all of which celebrate not only the Wright brothers’ accomplishments and their work from 1900 to 1903, but the last century of flight, as well.
Visitors’ Center/Museum: The visitors’ center and museum feature a full-scale reproduction of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider and 1903 flying machine, along with an engine block from their original 1903 flyer. Other interpretive displays are also located throughout the museum, and a number of seasonal programs are held here every year, along with Flight Room Talks, which are short sessions that recount the failures and successes of the Wright brothers during their years in Kill Devil Hills.
Living Quarters and Hangar: The memorial’s living quarters and hangar serve as replicas of the structures that the Wright brothers used during their time in the Outer Bank. The living quarters even feature furniture and other items that the Wright brothers would have likely brought with them, while the hangar is an exact replica of the original storage area where they stored their famous 1903 flyer.
Centennial of Flight Museum: At just over 10 years old, the Centennial of Flight Museum was created to honor the 1903 flight’s 100-year celebration. It features a number of exhibits, including the Wright replicas and a number of exhibits donated and maintained by NASA.