South Dakota Park Ranger Training and Degree Requirements

Protecting South Dakota’s best natural treasures and those who enjoy them, park rangers work at dozens of locations across the state where they enforce regulations and act as first responders in the event of an emergency. Park rangers with the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Agency are highly trained law enforcement professionals who have made it through a selective hiring process, distinguishing themselves as the top candidates in their field.

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There is no typical day for South Dakota’s park rangers, who on some days will guide sightseers through Palisades Park while on other days aid in an investigation between rival gangs operating within their jurisdiction.

Some of the state’s most scenic parks include:

  • Bear Butte State Park
  • Custer State Park
  • Fort Sisseton Historic State Park
  • George S. Mickelson Trail
  • Newton Hills State Park
  • Palisades State Park
  • Sica Hollow State Park
  • Spirit Mountain Historic Prairie

Qualifying for State Park Ranger Jobs in South Dakota

Minimum and Preferred Qualifications – Those who are interested in applying for park ranger jobs in South Dakota must begin by considering the minimum requirements as set forth by the Game, Fish and Parks Agency.

Although a four-year degree is not an explicit requirement for employment with the Game, Fish and Parks Agency, having a bachelor’s degree is a good way for applicants to stand out among their competition. Additionally, a relevant bachelor’s degree is one way applicants can qualify for federal park ranger positions, which will be explained shortly.

Pertinent majors can include:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Natural Sciences
  • Business Administration
  • Sociology
  • Public Administration

The Game, Fish and Parks Agency also prefers applicants who have the following certifications:

  • Emergency Management Technician
  • First Aid and CPR
  • First Responder

All applicants for park ranger jobs must:

  • Be a US citizen at least 21 years old
  • Have not abused drugs at least a year prior to application
  • Be of good, moral character

Acceptable Training or Experience – Another important requirement for employment is training or experience. Applicants have two choices for how they can meet this requirement, which must be fulfilled before they submit an application:

The SLETP is offered at places throughout the country, with the nearest location to South Dakota in Ely, Minnesota at Vermilion Community College. All SLETP graduates will receive training and education that qualifies them to:

  • Make arrests
  • Assist in the execution of warrants
  • Carry firearms
  • Investigation crimes

The SLETP program in Ely is worth 19 credits with instruction provided over the duration of an academic semester.

Application – Entry-level park ranger jobs in South Dakota are seasonal positions with the state’s Game, Fish and Parks Agency, and vacancies are posted on its employment website.

The application for these positions should be filled out in its entirety and submitted to the address found in the job announcement. Applications can be submitted once candidates have confirmed they meet the minimum requirements for employment. If candidates are chosen to continue in the hiring process they will need to successfully complete each of the following:

  • Medical exam
  • Drug screening
  • Background investigation
  • Interview

Qualifying for Federal Park Ranger Jobs in South Dakota

The National Park Service also employs a contingent of park rangers in South Dakota. These federal employees have a similar function as their counterparts employed with the state, and help to manage and protect South Dakota’s scenic national parks:

  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Badlands National Park
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Becoming a federal park ranger is completely different from that for state rangers, and involves submitting an application through the federal government’s main employment website.

The hiring process is also separate but involves similar steps, and candidates will need to meet similar basic requirements like passing a drug test and being a U.S. citizen.

There are several different kinds of federal park rangers, with entry-level positions being at both the GS-05 and GS-07 levels. These rankings designate the minimum qualifications needed to apply for these positions, which start at:

  • GS-05, one of the following requirements:
    • One year of specialized relevant park ranger experience
    • A bachelor degree with a major course of study related to the specific park ranger duties
    • A combination of education and experience
  • GS-07, one of the following requirements:
    • One year of advanced specialized and relevant experience
    • One year of related graduate-level study
    • A combination of education and experience

The higher-level GS-07 positions may require applicants to be at least 21 years old and also complete an SLETP course.

South Dakota Park Rangers and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Working outdoors where the general public often goes for vacation can have its ups and downs.

Park rangers in South Dakota are among the law enforcement professionals on alert during the annual world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Drawing hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the event every summer, the sheer number of people leads to a spike in crime. This recently spilled over into Custer State Park where a shootout occurred between members of the Hells Angels and Outlaws biker gangs. Within minutes of receiving the shots fired report, park rangers were on the scene, diverting traffic from Highway 16A to allow for a thorough examination of the crime scene near Legion Lake Resort.

Besides the less-typical motorcycle gang shootout, parks rangers must also be prepared for more common threats from animals. The danger posed by domesticated pets is often overshadowed by the threat from wild animals, however one park ranger was recently attacked by a criminal’s dog in the Badlands National Park. As the park ranger was bringing the man into custody, the suspect released his dog’s leash and allowed the canine to bite the ranger, and for a short time the man managed to elude authorities.

South Dakota Park Ranger Salaries

The National Park Service reports that there were almost 4 million visitors to the state’s 6 national parks in 2013, taking in more than $236 million in revenue for the state. Although park rangers in South Dakota are employed seasonally, they serve a crucial role in keeping visitors coming back to the parks. Some of the most recognized parks in the state include the Badlands, Jewel Cave, Minutemen Missile, and of course Mount Rushmore.

According to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, the park police salary in SD varies depending on the level of experience you have. There are three rank/salary levels among park rangers:

Temporary Park Worker I

  • Hourly Rate: $7.25

Temporary Park Worker II

  • Hourly Rate: $8.41

Temporary Park Worker III

  • Hourly Rate: $9.45

Park managers in South Dakota receive an annual wage of $48,180 and work year round.

It’s important to remember that park rangers work in many different capacities. The tables below provide more detailed salary information about some of those roles:

Recreation Workers Salaries in South Dakota

Area name
Annual mean wage
Rapid City SD
Sioux City IA-NE-SD
Sioux Falls SD
Central South Dakota nonmetropolitan area
Eastern South Dakota nonmetropolitan area
Western South Dakota nonmetropolitan area

Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in South Dakota

Area name
Annual mean wage
Rapid City SD
Estimate Not Released
Central South Dakota nonmetropolitan area
Western South Dakota nonmetropolitan area

Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in South Dakota

Area name
Annual mean wage
Rapid City SD
Sioux Falls SD
Eastern South Dakota nonmetropolitan area

Badlands National Park

Located less than an hour’s drive east of Rapid City, Badlands National Park is comprised of 244,000 acres of spires and buttes that make up some of the most fascinating natural formations in the world. Besides its unique landforms, this national landmark is also home to some of America’s most popular wildlife, including herds of buffalo.

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Park rangers play an important role here, not just by enforcing the rules and maintaining law and order, but also through their patrol duties. Badlands National Park is open all day and every day of the year. Camping is allowed anywhere in the park and visitors can go off marked trails as they please. On many occasions visitors don’t exercise the level of caution this sort of freedom requires. Fortunately, park rangers are entrusted with coordinating the rescue missions that can mean the difference between life and death in this rugged environment:

  • Search and rescues
  • Medical evacuations
  • Law enforcement operations
  • Wildlife surveys and human-impact reports

Special Ranger Programs in the Badlands

Park rangers feature prominently among the visitor programs at Badlands National Park. Throughout each season, park ranger jobs involve providing an interesting array of guided activities on the local history and features of one of the country’s most intriguing areas. These have recently included:

  • Daily geology walks: with millions of years of geological history on display like an almanac along the eroded pinnacles and spires of rock, park rangers with a specialization in geology take visitors along an enjoyable 45-minute walk through time.
  • Fossil talk: Badlands National Park used to sit on a giant, shallow inland sea that covered much of the plains of North America. Park rangers with a specialization in archeology and paleontology guide tourists through the history of the region, including one of the ancient world’s most dominant marine lizard predators, whose bones have been found prominently throughout the badlands.
  • Sun and stars program: during sunny days park rangers take visitors on a tour of the sun through a special sun telescope showing sunspots and an occasional solar flare. On clear nights rangers bring out large telescopes, pointing out popular planets, constellations, and stars.
  • Junior Ranger Program: park rangers also run a special program for youth known as the Junior Ranger Program. Kids of all ages can participate in 30 minutes of fun directed by a ranger with strong childhood development skills and a passion for making natural education fun and exciting.

Custer State Park

The first and largest of its kind in South Dakota, Custer State Park is one of the most popular destinations for camping and other outdoor recreation activities in the state. Named after George Armstrong Custer, the military commander famous for his ill-fated last stand, the state park is scenically situated a few dozen miles south of Rapid City near several other notable wilderness areas including the Black Hills National Forest and the Badlands National Park.

Candidates who are interested in applying with the Game, Fish and Parks Agency to become a park ranger in Custer State Park can start by following this guide.

Park Rangers Job Duties in Custer State Park

As one of South Dakota’s most popular wilderness areas, Custer State Park offers many opportunities for visitors:

  • Scenic roads
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Fishing
  • Recreation trails
  • Campgrounds and resorts

Park rangers play an important role in maintaining the amenities and natural beauty of the park:

  • Ensuring roads are safe, clear, and free of intoxicated drivers- a problem in Custer State Park as many who visit the premises are on vacation. Bison are often known to stop traffic as they roam everywhere in the park, including the roadways.
  • Park rangers keep the local wildlife populations healthy for those who enjoy viewing, hunting, and being among the park’s animals. Rangers need to have at least a basic knowledge of buffalo, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and mountain goats.
  • 182 acres of mountain freshwater can be found among Custer State Park’s four lakes, filled with several species of fish including the popular rainbow trout, brown trout, small mouth bass, and pike:
    • Center Lake
    • Legion Lake
    • Stockade Lake
    • Sylvan Lake
  • Park rangers interpret and patrol several trails leftover from early ranchers and pioneers. These are used today by hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and rock climbers.

Annual Events Hosted by Custer State Park

Buffalo Roundup – Every year park rangers ensure the annual buffalo roundup is conducted in an orderly and safe fashion, for the participants, spectators, and buffalo. Thousands of spectators come from across the country each year to watch experienced cowboys and cowgirls drive a herd of more than 1,300 buffalo. The task of keeping this 48-year-old tradition safe falls to park rangers, who must ensure adequate medical units are on standby at strategic locations, that participants and spectators follow safety guidelines, and that crowd control measures are correctly implemented.

Although park rangers are on-duty during the buffalo roundup, they have also been known to take a break and watch the branding activities and buffalo sorting in corrals. Rangers may also enjoy certain perks offered at the Dutch oven and chili cook-offs, which coincide with the roundup and offer additional arts and crafts exhibits.

Volksmarch – Seasonal volksmarches are also a popular activity that takes place along trails throughout the park. Park rangers work in close cooperation with the Black Hills Volkssport Association to ensure all participants stay on the trails, keep track of each other, and have a good time as they walk for miles on end through the pristine wildlands of the park.

Halloween Hike – Not officially a volksmarch event, the annual Halloween Night Hike is another popular event that takes place from the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center to the Game Lodge Campground. A fun family event, the 1.5-mile trail is lit by jack-o-lanterns and torches, and includes historic information as well as Halloween spooks. Park rangers are on hand to make sure everyone stays safe and follows the rules. As rangers will explain, visitors will see a completely different side of nature while walking through the park at night.

Buffalo Hunting – Unique in Custer State Park is its herd of buffalo. One of the ways park rangers help to manage this prized natural resource is through the hunting of both trophy and non-trophy bucks. Buffalo are the only big-game animal that is allowed to be hunted by non-state residents. Park rangers play an important part of the hunt by surveying herd populations to ensure their numbers are sufficient, and identifying the bull males which are allowed to be harvested.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Every year park rangers are responsible for the safety and security of approximately three million visitors who make the journey to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Completed in 1941 at a cost of nearly one million dollars, 401 sculptors did a dynamite job, finishing the monument in just over 14 years. Mount Rushmore is just 35 miles southwest of Rapid City Regional Airport.

Park rangers working at the national monument are charged with several important tasks:

  • Historical interpretation for visitors
  • Enforcement of park rules and the law in general
  • Crowd management and control
  • Making environmental assessments
  • Mounting first-responder and rescue operations as needed

Recent Park Ranger Arrests at Mount Rushmore

With around three million annual visitors, it is no surprise that park rangers are forced on occasion to make arrests.

This is exactly what they did to a man who recently decided to start climbing on the national memorial. As stunned visitors watched, a 53-year-old man made his way through a restricted area and began climbing up the loose rock directly below the heads of Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The man was eventually sentenced to pay $550 in fines and court fees. Rangers would not reveal whether new security measures were responsible for alerting authorities, but did say that the public at large was never under any threat.

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Those new security measures were put into place after another flagrant breach of park rules occurred involving a demonstration made by members of Greenpeace. This more serious incident involved 12 members of the group climbing onto the monument itself using sophisticated equipment to unveil a 2,300 square-foot protest banner covering the faces of the presidents. Park rangers were able to take the activists into custody with no serious injuries.

Park Ranger Interpretation

Park rangers do more than just law enforcement at the memorial; Mount Rushmore is also located in a natural area with notable plants, wildlife, and history.

As an island of granite in a sea of prairie grasslands, the Black Hills area surrounding Mount Rushmore has a rich history of human habitation dating back over thousands of years. Park rangers interpret this history to millions of visitors, recounting the different civilizations and wildlife of the area. Turkey vultures, mountain goats, and several species of wildflowers are a frequent site for visitors who may enjoy the region’s biological diversity as much as the sculpture.

And of course, park rangers spend plenty of time relating the history of the memorial itself, answering popular questions like:

  • Who is Mount Rushmore named after?
  • Why were these particular four presidents chosen?
  • Who designed the memorial and why?
  • What was the reaction of people at the time it was completed?

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