It is commonly said of Tennessee that wherever you may be, you’re within an hour’s drive of a state park. Some of the best of what nature has to offer in the state is the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country with almost twice as many tourists stopping by each year than the next most visited place, the Grand Canyon.
Candidates interested in learning how to become a park ranger in Tennessee can start by reviewing the basic hiring requirements for these positions. By a recent count there were about 210 park rangers in Tennessee in total, more than 30 percent of which are within five years of retirement. Spread across more than four-dozen state parks, Tennessee’s park rangers work in some very popular destinations, including:
- Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Paris Landing State Park
- Frozen Head State Park
- Fort Pillow State Park
- Natchez Trace State Park
Becoming a Park Ranger with Tennessee State Parks
Bachelor’s Degree and Other Requirements – Park rangers working under the Tennessee State Parks Department all hold a four-year bachelor’s degree as a base requirement for employment.
- 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
Although a bachelor’s degree in any major will fulfill the education requirement to become a park ranger, certain majors naturally lend themselves better to this line of work:
- Natural Resource Management
- Parks and Recreation
- Criminal Justice
The other important park ranger requirements for employment are:
- Be a US citizen at least 21 years old
- Have no felony convictions
- Have an honorable discharge from the military, if applicable
Application – Applications for Tennessee park ranger jobs are made online through the state’s Department of Human Resources. The application process can begin by searching for vacant park ranger positions among current job openings. If there are no posted vacancies applicants can sign up to be notified when these become available.
Once an application is determined to meet the minimum qualifications and is considered competitive, the candidate will be contacted to continue in the hiring process, which is comprised of:
- Extensive background investigation
- Fingerprint check
- Physical medical exam
- Psychological evaluation
Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy – Once a candidate has been hired he or she will begin an extensive park ranger training course at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy. This is a specific regimen prescribed by Tennessee State Parks to prepare new rangers to be law enforcement officers in a wilderness environment. Topics covered include:
- Self defense
- Firearms training
- Crime scene investigation
- Defensive driving
- Chain of command
- Report writing
Upon graduation from the academy new park rangers will be ready to work at any of the Tennessee’s 54 State Parks.
Federal Park Rangers in Tennessee
Employment as a federal park ranger with the National Parks Service is another option for candidates interested in this type of position in Tennessee. The minimum requirements and hiring process is similar to state-level jobs, however there are a few important differences:
- Applicants for these positions must have either at least a relevant bachelor degree, such as those listed for state-level employment, or have at minimum one year of specialized and pertinent work experience. A combination of specialized work experience and education can also be acceptable.
- Application for federal employment as a park ranger with the National Parks Service is made online through the USA Jobs website.
There are 14 important nationally-designated sites in Tennessee such as national battlefields, cemeteries, rivers, and scenic trails. Federal park rangers protect these areas as well as assist their state colleagues as needed, and are also tasked with managing national sites such as the Great Smoky Mountains.
Park Rangers in Action at Radnor Lake and Rock Island State Parks
Tennessee park rangers were involved in two recent events that made headlines while also providing good examples that each day on the job brings unique challenges.
While smoking marijuana and illegally drinking alcohol may sound like a good time for some, park rangers recently on patrol at Rock Island State Park thought differently. The rangers demonstrated their displeasure by arresting three such perpetrators near Twin Falls, who also happened to be in a restricted and dangerous area. Public intoxication, criminal trespassing, and possession of drug paraphernalia were just some of the charges leveled against the trio, which as the rangers explained, was for their own good.
In another recent case, park rangers decided they needed to investigate the calls they were getting about a man walking around with an AK-47 strapped to his back in Radnor Lake State Park. When rangers made contact with the suspicious and armed individual they realized he was not technically breaking any laws, and was attempting to make a statement about open-carry gun liberties. The incident goes to show that wildlife lovers are not the only types of activists park rangers may encounter while carrying out their duties.
Tennessee Park Ranger Salaries
According to Tennessee State Parks, there are a total of 54 state parks in Tennessee. Some of the most frequently visited parks include Natchez Trace State Park, Paris Landing, Cumberland Mountain, and Rock Island. Based on information obtained from the State of Tennessee, Department of Human Resources, the average starting park ranger salary in Tennessee is $29,202.
Here is a more detailed look at how park rangers in Tennessee are paid:
Park Ranger 1
- Minimum: $27,072
- Midpoint: $35,184
- Maximum: $43,296
Park Ranger 2
- Minimum: $31,332
- Midpoint: $40,728
- Maximum: $50,124
Park Interpretive Specialist 1
- Minimum: $24,540
- Midpoint: $31,908
- Maximum: $39,276
Park Interpretive Specialist 2
- Minimum: $27,072
- Midpoint: $35,184
- Maximum: $43,296
Park Interpretive Specialist
- Minimum: $36,276
- Midpoint: $47,148
- Maximum: $58,020
Additional park ranger salary information, as published by the U.S. Department of Labor, is seen in the following tables:
Recreation Workers Salaries in Tennessee
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Tennessee
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Tennessee
Fall Creek Falls State Park
As Tennessee’s largest and most visited outdoor recreation area, Fall Creek Falls State Park offers visitors everything from breathtaking waterfalls to opportunities for some quality spelunking. The unique activities available at the park also mean park rangers are faced with some unique challenges when it comes to ensuring visitors are safe and the rules are followed. Employed by Tennessee State Parks, rangers are trained in a variety of rescue tactics and plenty of other areas including law enforcement, natural resource management, and guiding.
What Fall Creek Falls Park Rangers Have to Offer
Park rangers working at Fall Creek Falls provide an indispensable range of services to visitors each season.
Trail Patrols: Fall Creek Falls offers outdoor enthusiasts miles of biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. Because those using these pathways through nature can sometimes get into trouble, park rangers conduct regular patrols to make sure everyone is staying safe and keeping the environment as pristine as they found it. This includes patrols on:
- 13.5-mile Upper Loop mountain bike trail
- 14-mile Upper Loop hiking trail
- 13.2-mile Lower Loop hiking trail
- 4.3-mile Gilbert Gaul hiking trail
- 1.9-mile Wheeler Farm Loop hiking trail
- Two miles of horseback riding trail near the Fall Creek Falls Stables
Guided Hikes: Rangers also act as guided hike leaders, taking tourists on enjoyable strolls through miles of trails passing waterfalls, wildflowers, and several steep slopes. One particular favorite hike takes place in spring and involves a trek along the Cumberland Plateau, termed the Wildflower Pilgrimage.
Telescope Activities: Park rangers also coordinate with the Cumberland Astronomical Society to ensure stargazing parties are conducted safely and according to park rules. These take place with local and visiting telescope enthusiasts who make astronomy fun at night when the planets and constellations come out, and during the day with special sun-viewing telescopes.
Golfing: Although park rangers ensure that golfers on the state park’s professionally designed 18-hole course are safe among the wild woodlands of the Cumberland Plateau, they have been known to on occasion during their break ensure the golf clubs themselves are safe by taking them out for a few trial swings.
Recent Ranger Arrests and Rescues in Fall Creek Falls
Two park rangers were recently honored with an award for their actions that saved the life of a visitor to the park. The incident happened when the two rangers responded to an emergency call for help made by the staff at a local lodge where one of their guests had suffered an apparent heart attack. The two rangers arrived within minutes and performed CPR until took over and were able to stabilize the man’s condition.
In a more sinister incident, park rangers, sheriff deputies, and forestry officials were able to corner a 50-year-old man as he attempted to flee in his truck after he had been intentionally setting forest fires in Fall Creek Falls State Park. Unbeknownst to the man, a forestry air unit was on patrol above him and recorded video evidence of him in the act of committing the arson attacks. The pilot was able to lead law enforcement units to the man’s location, and he initially denied setting the blazes. Park rangers must be on constant alert for arsonists because on average a few of these criminals are driven to light fires in the area every year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Park rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are responsible for ensuring a safe and interesting environment for the more than 9.5 million visitors to the park every year – more visitors than any other park in the country. Every month masses of families and outdoor enthusiasts leave the park feeling renewed and relaxed after an enjoyable vacation or day trip, all made possible by the dedication and service of park rangers employed by the National Parks Service.
The following activities are just a few of the duties performed by rangers:
- Historical interpretation and guiding
- Hikes accompanied by natural science lectures
- Management of Appalachian music festivals
- Search and rescue operations
- Law enforcement
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is big. Biologists believe the park may be home to nearly 100,000 different plant and animal species, spread across its more than 800 square miles of territory spanning the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
To ensure park rangers are ready to take on the responsibility of managing the country’s most popular park, the National Parks Service requires a thorough screening and training process for all its ranger applicants.
Ranger Activities in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
The many kinds of park rangers working at sites across the national park provide visitors with a window into their areas of expertise.
Park rangers specializing in natural history share their knowledge on many of the park’s unique and interesting wildlife facts. There is such a wide variety of species in the park because its elevation ranges from 875 to 6,643 feet and its total area is 95 percent forest. This unbroken habitat and its different climates allow for tens of thousands of different life forms to thrive. Formed between 200-300 million years ago and running north to south, plant species have thrived over millennia and animal species are able to take advantage of a north-south migration during seasonal and climatic changes in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Park rangers specializing in the cultural history of the area are fonts of information on the subjects of Native American and Appalachian cultures. Tourists can hear rangers give captivating lectures about everything from the original inhabitants of the area to the coming of settlers. Long before the pyramids of Egypt were built, paleo native tribes were hunting in the area as evidenced by the discovery of a 9,000 year-old arrowhead in the park. By the time the first European settlers arrived, Cherokee tribes dominated the area, who would in turn be replaced by subsistence Appalachian farmers. Their music is celebrated by visitors and park rangers to this day during several festivals which take place in the park each year.
Besides promoting enjoyable activities and safety, rangers make it possible for the communities surrounding the park to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits each year- with a recent year’s totaling $741 million. This booming tourism industry supports hundreds of businesses and creates around 11,000 jobs in the local community.
Warriors’ Path State Park
Located just southeast of Kingsport a few miles from the intersection of I-81 and I-26, Warriors’ Path State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Tennessee. The reason for the 950-acre park’s prominence has to do with the variety of amenities – from golfing to water sports – offered at this historic place.
The park’s name is derived from the Great Cherokee War and Trading Path, part of an even greater network of trails, which date back to before the arrival of settlers in America and that stretches from New York to Alabama. Today, the paths crossing the park are for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and winter sports enthusiasts.
Park rangers are employed by Tennessee State Parks to ensure all visitors to Warriors’ Path have an enjoyable and safe visit. Candidates who are interested in filling these essential jobs at Warriors’ Path can start by learning the minimum park ranger requirements.
What Park Rangers Do at Warriors’ Path
From law enforcement and informative speaking to administration, Warriors’ Path State Park could not function without the dedication of park rangers. Newborns, pensioners and everyone in between can enjoy either an activity sponsored by a ranger or the tranquility made possible by the enforcement of park rules.
Trail Patrol – Trail patrol is an important activity carried out by rangers, who check to make sure those enjoying the great outdoors are doing so safely with no problems. Warriors’ Path is home to several notable trails:
- National Recreation Trail – an 8.5-mile trail open to hikers and mountain bikers
- Woodland trails – Two miles of trail system open during the summer to horseback riders
- Fort Patrick Henry Lake paths – Pathways along the lake and through the forest offer exciting avian views for visitors who are particularly interested in bird watching, or “birding” for experts.
- 12 miles of hiking trails including:
- 2.9-mile Sinking Waters Trail
- 2.5-mile Devils Backbone Trail
- 1.5-mile Fall Creek Loop Trail
- 1-mile Holston Bluffs Trail
Water Patrol – Water patrol and rescue is another important activity carried out by park rangers in Warriors’ Path. As one of the most visited state parks in Tennessee, the high volume of people and large percentage of a marine environment in the park means an increased risk for boating accidents and drowning. Several creeks lead into the main Fort Patrick Henry Lake, which is itself a part of the Holston River. Water recreation and fishing are both popular at the park, which means park rangers are on alert for anyone engaging in unlawful or dangerous behavior.
Activities – Park rangers also lead popular activities for both adults and kids:
- Spring Hike: Rangers lead hikers up an abandoned logging road to a waterfall which descends over 100 feet. They will also describe the wildlife and wildflowers that are guaranteed to be active and prolific in the spring season as both are adjusting to longer daylight hours and warmer weather.
- Dragonfly Day: Park rangers also host to Dragonfly Day, an event that celebrates the park’s natural diversity of anisoptera. Thanks to the climate, humidity, and abundance of unpolluted water, colorful dragonflies, damselflies, and other winged insects call Warriors’ Path their home. Park rangers take visitors on a tour and offer interesting facts during the outing.