The work that park rangers perform may encompass everything from law enforcement to cultural interpretation, with smaller, less visited parks requiring rangers to serve in a number of roles; and larger, more popular parks calling on rangers to serve in a more specialized capacity. Whether working for a local, state or national park, training requirements will depend on the nature of the ranger’s role and on the needs of the location.
Just as the duties that park rangers perform are often varied and diverse, even within a specific park, so too are the training requirements of today’s park rangers.
Park ranger training may be focused on one of more of the following areas:
- Law enforcement: Focuses on enforcing park regulations and local/state/federal laws
- Interpretation and education: Focuses on providing informational services to visitors, programs focused on fostering stewardship and natural resource protection, and curriculum-based educational programs
- Emergency response: Focuses on search and rescue, wilderness first aid, and firefighting, as well as more specialized areas such as high-angle and swift-water rescue
- Maintenance: Focuses on performing routine maintenance on facilities and grounds, including trails and other recreational areas
Training for Park Rangers with the National Park Service
National Park Service (NPS) ranger training is organized through the NPS Office of Learning and Development, which oversees three training centers:
- Historic Preservation Training Center – Frederick, Maryland
- Horace Albright Training Center – Grand Canyon, Arizona
- Stephen Mather Training Center – Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
Training programs differ based on the type of park ranger position and the job duties of that position:
- 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
Law Enforcement Ranger Training
NPS park rangers working in seasonal law enforcement are required to complete a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) at one of seven colleges located around the country:
- Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, CO
- Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ
- Santa Rosa Junior College in Windsor, CA
- Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, WA
- Southwestern Community College in Franklin, NC
- Temple University in Philadelphia, PA
- Vermilion Community College in Ely, MN
These programs generally consist of no fewer than 400 hours of coursework and practical exercises designed to prepare graduates to competently make arrests, perform criminal investigations and assist in executing warrants. Beginning in August of 2015, all seven Seasonal Law Enforcement Training academy programs will involve no fewer than 650 hours of coursework and practical training exercises.
Completing a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training program is a very important step to becoming a seasonal law enforcement ranger, but it does not satisfy all NPS education and experience requirements. Graduates are only eligible to apply for Type II seasonal commissioned positions with the National Park Service after qualifying through education, or a combination of education and experience.
Seasonal Law Enforcement Training programs result in credits that can be applied toward NPS post-secondary education requirements, which stipulate the completion of a bachelor’s degree if qualifying through education, or two years of post-secondary education and one year of GS-4 level experience if qualifying through a combination of education and experience. Some SLETP programs are offered as an embedded component of a degree program designed to meet NPS post-secondary education requirements.
Year-round law enforcement rangers serve as fully commissioned peace officers. These rangers must attend training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. The NPS has a full-time staff at the FLETC to manage training for park ranger trainees. The FLETC provides park rangers the full range of law enforcement skills needed to enforce state and federal laws within NPS properties.
Interpretive Park Ranger Training
Park rangers working in an interpretive capacity for the NPS, on the other hand, receive much of their training through the NPS Interpretation and Education Career Academy’s Interpretive Development Program. This program is designed to address the full range of competencies needed to serve as an interpretive park ranger, which include:
- Presenting talks to visitors
- Leading hikes and tours
- Presenting programs to school groups
- Writing interpretive publications
- Planing interpretive events and programs
State Park Ranger In-Service and Academy Training
Park ranger training at the state level is quite varied, with much of the training dependent upon the scope of the park ranger job.
Some states, like Missouri, recognize park rangers as commissioned peace officers and therefore require the completion of a POST certified law enforcement academy program. POST training requirements include a minimum number of contact hours (usually about 600) to meet the standards for certification as a peace officer. In Missouri, park ranger recruits must also complete supplemental training of 400 hours designed to better prepare them for a career in law enforcement. Supplemental training includes study in such areas as:
- Legal studies
- Ethics and professionalism
- Crisis intervention
- Criminal investigations
- Defensive tactics
Training for Maryland park rangers, on the other hand, requires the completion of a distinctly different curriculum, which includes:
- Maryland Office of Tourism Development Welcome Center National Certification Training Program
- In-service test on Maryland Park Service and Park Ranger History
- Two-day search and rescue course
- 40-hour CPR/First Responder entry-level course
- Incident command courses
- Seasonal Interpretation School to demonstrate expertise in interpretive skills
- NAI Certified Interpretive Host training to demonstrate visitor service/hospitality skills
- Maryland Park Service Ranger School
- Maintenance workshops to demonstrate maintenance knowledge and skills
- Six-hour Voluntary Compliance course to demonstrate skills in the workplace
Further, park rangers are required to complete annual, in-service training. For example, Missouri park rangers must complete at least 48 hours of continuing education to maintain their peace officer status, which must include at least 4 hours in all 4 core curricula areas:
- Legal studies
- Interpersonal perspectives
- Technical studies
- Skill development
Other examples of academy and in-service training for state park rangers include:
Florida: Park ranger training in Florida includes a two-week training program through the Florida Park Service Ranger Academy.
Arizona: Arizona park rangers who serve in law enforcement roles must complete a 17-week basic training academy.
Georgia: New park rangers who are not POST certified must attend an 11-week basic law enforcement training course upon being hired. From there, all park ranger cadets must complete 12 weeks of mandated law enforcement training at the Georgia Public Safety Training facility in Georgia. In-service training for Georgia’s conservation rangers includes at least 20 hours of training.
Alabama: All Alabama State park rangers must complete the 12-week Alabama POST academy.
New York: All New York park police recruits must complete a six-month residential training program at the State Park Police Academy in Albany County. Classroom education during the academy training period consists of topics such as criminal investigations, park and recreation law, criminal procedure law, and penal law. Hands-on training is focused on firearms, first response, boat operation, rope rescue, and emergency vehicle operations, among others. Following academy training, new recruits must complete a 10-week field training program.