Washington’s park rangers work in some of the most diverse biomes in the country, from rain forests and jagged mountain ranges, to an active volcano and high desert regions. In recent years, Washington’s park rangers have dealt with everything from violent acts against their own, to volcanic eruptions and tsunami debris that made its way across the ocean from the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in 2011.
Each year 500 permanent and 350 seasonal employees – many of whom are park rangers – help to make the experience of visiting these majestic parks unforgettable. With over 70 state parks and several national parks, Washington has some of the most accessible wilderness areas of any state in the nation.
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Steps to Becoming a Park Ranger with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission employs two classes of park rangers. Both perform functions related to law enforcement, public administration, maintenance, administrative work, resource stewardship, supervision, and interpretation, but each class has a different scope as it relates to law enforcement:
Park Ranger 1 – Law enforcement functions are limited to:
- Assisting investigations
- Writing citations
- Protecting park properties
- Directing traffic
- Preparing written reports
- May NOT carry a firearm
Minimum requirements to become a park ranger 1 involve having a valid driver’s license and:
- Two years of college (no major specified)
- High school diploma or GED and two years of military service or lead work experience
Park Ranger 2 – Authorized to perform additional law enforcement functions that include:
- Leading investigations
- Performing surveillance
- Conducting crowd control
- Making arrests and filing charges
- Carrying a firearm
- One year of park ranger experience
- Two years of college (no major specified)
- High school diploma/GED and two years experience in the military or as a commissioned law enforcement officer
The most competitive candidates for park ranger jobs with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission hold a bachelor’s degree with a relevant major in areas like:
- Park Administration
- Public Administration
- Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice
- Natural Resource Management
A four-year degree would also satisfy the requirements to work as a ranger with the National Park Service (NPS) in one of the national parks located throughout Washington.
Applying – Before candidates submit an application to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, they should ensure they meet the minimum requirements:
- Be able to pass an extensive background investigation
- Pass a drug test
- Have a good personal history with no significant criminal violations
- Have a driver’s license with no restrictions, other than corrective lenses
- Be able to pass a medical and psychological evaluation
Vacant park ranger jobs in Washington are posted on the State Parks employment website. Specific duties, qualifications, and training will be listed on each individual job announcement along with information on how to apply through the state’s career portal. Applicants will also usually need to complete a job-specific questionnaire and submit a Complete Record driving abstract.
Some park ranger positions may also require a commercial driver’s license with specific endorsements.
Washington Park Ranger Training – Within the first 12 months of employment, new park rangers will need to complete the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Law Enforcement Academy. This is offered as a 720-hour program covering topics that include:
- Cultural heritage
- Natural resources protection
- Natural and cultural history
- Law enforcement tactics
- Problem solving, experimentation, and logic
Federal Park Ranger Jobs in Washington with the National Parks Service
Applicants can also consider federal park ranger jobs with the National Parks Service. Operating across Washington in tandem with their state-level counterparts, federal park rangers are in charge of ensuring a safe interaction between visitors and nature in the state’s several federally managed regions, including:
- Mount Rainier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
Applications may be submitted through the federal employment website. Candidates must be US citizens. For certain park ranger positions that involve law enforcement, candidates must also be at least 21 years old and complete a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP).
Park ranger jobs at the federal level also have specific entry level requirements detailed in the individual job announcements. These generally encompass meeting one of the following minimum requirements:
- A bachelor’s degree in a relevant area of study
- One year of specialized work experience in a pertinent area
- The combined equivalent of education and experience
Protecting the Natural Environment and Serving the Citizens of Washington State
Although park rangers work in environments where most people vacation, they must maintain constant vigilance. A look at two incidents that took place in Washington State Parks in 2013 stand as examples of what a day in the life of a park ranger can look like and how diverse their responsibilities can be:
- A park ranger on duty at Fort Casey spotted a man acting suspiciously near Keystone Spit. Upon investigating, the ranger realized he was dealing with a crime in progress and made a successful arrest of the suspect on charges related to the illegal harvest of natural resources and discovered the man also had an outstanding warrant for a felony charge.
- In a more uplifting event, park rangers participated in the release of two bald eagles, a national symbol of freedom, at Rasar State Park after rescuing and rehabilitating the birds. Both of these majestic birds made a full recovery thanks to the help and intervention of Washington State Park rangers.
Washington Park Ranger Salaries
There are currently more than 100 state parks in Washington and 13 national parks. The national parks alone received more than 7.3 million visitors during 2013. Park rangers working in the state of Washington are employed by Washington State Parks. There are a variety of opportunities for park rangers which can go all the way up to park management positions.
Information ascertained from Washington State Human Resources reveals that the starting park ranger salary in Washington, on average, is $43,971. There are currently four levels among park rangers in Washington, and their salary structure is as follows:
Park Ranger 1
- Step A: $34,260
- Step B: $35,040
- Step C: $35,928
- Step D: $36,756
- Step E: $37,620
- Step F: $38,556
- Step G: $39,516
- Step H: $40,524
- Step I: $41,508
- Step J: $42,588
- Step K: $43,572
- Step L: $44,712
Park Ranger 2
- Step A: $38,556
- Step B: $39,516
- Step C: $40,524
- Step D: $41,508
- Step E: $42,588
- Step F: $43,572
- Step G: $44,712
- Step H: $45,828
- Step I: $47,016
- Step J: $48,168
- Step K: $49,368
- Step L: $50,568
Park Ranger 3
- Step A: $45,828
- Step B: $47,016
- Step C: $48,168
- Step D: $49,368
- Step E: $50,568
- Step F: $51,864
- Step G: $53,148
- Step H: $54,504
- Step I: $55,836
- Step J: $57,240
- Step K: $58,656
- Step L: $60,120
Park Ranger 4
- Step A: $57,240
- Step B: $58,656
- Step C: $60,120
- Step D: $61,632
- Step E: $63,192
- Step F: $64,740
- Step G: $66,420
- Step H: $68,016
- Step I: $69,756
- Step J: $71,496
- Step K: $73,260
- Step L: $75,084
Additional park ranger salary information, by various titles, is shown in the following tables:
Recreation Workers Salaries in Washington
Tour Guides and Escorts in Washington
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Washington
Cape Disappointment State Park
As one of the most popular state parks in Washington, Cape Disappointment offers its visitors many things to choose from:
- Columbia River and Pacific Ocean boating or fishing
- 1,882 acres of hiking and natural wilderness
- Two lighthouses, one of which is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast
- Ocean beaches
- Old-growth forests
- Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
- 137 campsites
- Cabins, yurts, and full hookup sites
The park draws people to experience nature and at the same time acts as a magnet for the local tourism industry. It is thanks to park rangers at Cape Disappointment State Park that all these activities are possible. From enforcing litter regulations to performing rescues, a visitor’s time at the park would not be as enjoyable or safe without the presence of these dedicated rangers.
Working as a Park Ranger at Cape Disappointment
Rescues – The Pacific Ocean is one of the main attractions for visitors to Cape Disappointment State Park. The ocean offers food, boating fun, and beautiful sunsets to the park’s visitors. While rangers enjoy these activities too, their primary duty is to ensure people are interacting safely with the ocean. They do this by conducting patrols to ensure all are following lifejacket and fishing regulations. When needed, they can also conduct rescue operations.
Cape Disappointment presents two very real safety challenges to park rangers: a strong ocean rip current and nearby sandbars at the mouth of the Columbia River. Unfortunately these features have claimed many lives in the past despite proactive education measures. Rip currents can drag even the best swimmers hundreds of yards out to sea in deceptively calm water near the park’s campgrounds. Sand bars along the mouth of the Columbia are so dangerous that the area has been nicknamed the Graveyard of the Pacific. Park rangers work with local rescue personnel and the Coast Guard to conduct harrowing sea rescues.
Interpretive Activities – Park rangers also present an array of interpretive activities at locations throughout Cape Disappointment State Park. This includes ranger-led hikes to the North Head Lighthouse, beach walks, and demonstrations. Rangers recently demonstrated how to operate a 19th century musket, complete with gunpowder and a fired shot.
At the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, park rangers recount a number of tales about the local area to visitors:
- The original path and challenges faced by the Lewis and Clark expedition
- The exploration and claim challenges from American and European powers starting in 1788
- Modoc Indian War of 1872-73
- Perceived threat of Japanese attack during World War Two
- The region’s local plant and wildlife populations
- The tribes of the area today and in the past
Park Cleanup – Park rangers also play an instrumental role in keeping Cape Disappointment clean by leading community cleanups and issuing fines for polluters. This ensures all may have an enjoyable experience and the native wildlife will not be adversely affected.
An unexpected cleanup activity has recently faced park rangers at Cape Disappointment, and that is debris washing up on the park’s beach from the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Because the debris may be contaminated or carry non-native invasive species, park rangers recommend the public to report the debris. Fortunately the debris that has washed ashore has not indicated any above-normal radioactivity. In June of 2012 a Japanese fiberglass boat was washed up on the beach at Cape Disappointment.
Deception Pass State Park
The first Europeans to land on Whidbey Island did so in 1792 using an old Aztec map. These explorers encountered people who had been living there for millennia. Today this area is designated as a state park with over 100,000 feet of shoreline and over 4,000 acres of camping, hiking, and water recreation.
Park rangers employed by Washington State Parks at Deception Pass do everything from explaining the region’s history in detail to rescuing boaters trapped in strong current and whirlpools. Learning how to become a park ranger at Deception Pass State Park can introduce candidates to a lifelong career of public service. Every year park rangers at the pass save lives and protect the environment at Washington’s most-visited state park.
All Part of a Deception Pass Park Ranger’s Duties
Keeping the wildlife and visitors at Deception Pass State Park safe is a multi-pronged effort made by rangers every day. Rescue, law enforcement, and storytelling are all part of a ranger’s toolkit in this endeavor.
An outdoor amphitheater provides the backdrop for park rangers as they tell the tales about the area’s past inhabitants and present wildlife. Rangers also recount the natural and cultural history of Whidbey Island at the interpretive center located at the park in Bowman Bay.
Rescues – When not doing presentations to the public, park rangers may be found rescuing boaters. The narrow channel of the Puget Sound going between the mainland and Whidbey Island – the deceptive pass whose narrowness convinced early Spanish navigators the island was a peninsula – can create rapids when the tide is going out or coming in. The swirling waters and whirlpools often trap kayakers and other small water vessels, whose lives are regularly saved by park rangers. This exact scenario recently befell two men in kayaks, which were capsized by the strong currents. Park rangers successfully deployed a boat which fetched to two men who had luckily managed to grab hold of a rocky outcropping.
The bittersweet psychological phenomenon that causes people to consider ending their lives in scenic places holds true at Deception Pass, where park rangers say an average of two people do just this every year from the 180-foot bridge spanning the watery gap. In a recent case a park ranger was called to the bridge just in time, and was able to bring a woman’s feet back to the ground as she attempted to leap over the guardrail. In a later interview, this park ranger said in the past he has successfully talked several people down from the bridge.
Ecology – In response to E. coli water contamination in a popular swimming area, park rangers took action. Determining that waste from migrating flocks of Canadian Geese was the culprit, rangers got creative and took environmentally friendly steps to repel the honkers from Cranberry Lake in the form of grape seed extract, which the geese find unappetizing, and coyote scarecrows. Aside from ensuring visiting swimmers could enjoy safe waters, the action of these rangers was also important for helping the local economy recover from tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenues because of the beach closure.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
One of the most impressive construction projects of its time, the Grand Coulee dam was completed in 1942. It is still one of the largest concrete structures in the world, and produces the most electricity of any hydroelectric power station in the nation. This massive construction project also created a massive 130-mile-long lake, named after a key supporter of the dam, President Franklin Roosevelt.
Today this expanse of water and the surrounding area, known as the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, is one of Washington State’s most popular areas for boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. Managed by the National Parks Service, park rangers ensure that all who enjoy this scenic lake do so in a manner that ensures safety for themselves and the area’s native wildlife.
To become a park ranger in Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area candidates will need to meet the application standards of the National Parks Service. These dedicated rangers do everything from enforcing the law to conducting canoe tours of this Washington treasure.
Working as a Park Ranger at the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
A Roosevelt National Recreation Area park ranger’s duties depend on his or her particular area of specialization. This can be:
- Related to park operations
- Search and rescue
- Law enforcement
Examples of job duties associated with these roles include:
- Ranger-led canoe programs which take visitors through historic and scenic places, while the ranger relates information about the history, wildlife, and plants of the area.
- Interpretive rangers lead activities at Fort Spokane and Saint Paul’s Mission, where they recount stories about the land’s past inhabitants and allow visitors to imagine a different era.
- Stevens County sheriff’s deputies recently notified park rangers when an abandoned vehicle was found partially submerged in an inaccessible portion of Lake Roosevelt. Upon arrival park rangers also found beer cans strewn throughout the scene as well as inside the vehicle. The owner was contacted based on the vehicle’s license plate number and faces prosecution for destroying park vegetation.
- Park rangers also patrol Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area to ensure it remains a pristine environment. With over 1.4 million visitors every year, every piece of litter has an impact, and that is why park rangers are strict when it comes to upholding this law. Human waste is also a form of litter which can be particularly harmful in water environments. To counter this, park rangers can issue a $125 fine to anyone who does not have a portable toilet on their boat.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is the second-most visited national park in Washington State and the fifth-oldest park of its kind in the nation. Every year more than one million people take in the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier National Park.
The magnitude of visitors combined with the enormity of the park itself – at nearly 370 square miles – creates a formidable challenge for the park’s rangers. Charged with ensuring that visitors have an enjoyable and safe experience at Mount Rainier, park rangers must also ensure that habitat and wildlife thrive.
Visitors can enjoy the park’s numerous recreational opportunities:
- Hiking and wildlife watching
- Mountain climbing
- Biking, jogging, and horseback riding
- Snow sports
- Water sports
As the Pacific Northwest’s highest peak, Mount Rainier contains over 25 glaciers.
Park Ranger Activity at Mount Rainier National Park
Rangers do many things at Mount Rainier National Park. One favorite activity for both rangers and visitors are ranger-led events. These include everything from campfire activities for kids and their parents to serious hikes up steep slopes. Many ranger programs are also wheelchair accessible and can offer closed captioning. Some of the most recent programs include:
- Talks on park history and geology
- Wildlife and ecology presentations
- Guided hikes and snowshoe walks
- Stargazing events with telescopes
Every year around 10,000 people attempt to reach Mount Rainier’s 14,410-foot summit, and only about half succeed. The others must give up their summit because of bad weather, not being prepared, or because they need to be rescued. That is exactly what happened recently to three Canadian climbers who fell into a crevasse while attempting to summit in icy conditions. A special team of rescue climbing rangers deployed in a helicopter was able to pull the men out of the crevasse before they perished. Although this situation ended well, park rangers must be prepared for the worst, which sometimes does occur.
Law enforcement park rangers at Mount Rainier recently set up a sting operation to catch suspected car prowlers in the act. In response to a string of break ins at the park, rangers put popular electronic items in a car and left it at the Crystal Lakes Trailhead to see if the criminals would strike. Hiding in the bushes nearby, a park ranger watched as a vehicle with two passengers approached, broke into the bait car, and drove away. The suspects were arrested by rangers a short distance away, who upon searching the vehicle also discovered stolen items from other recent occurrences of car prowling. Mount Rainier’s park rangers can use whatever creative means necessary to stop crime.
Seaquest State Park
Washington was changed forever on May 18th 1980 when Mount Saint Helens exploded in the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption the United States has ever seen. Today, less than 50 miles away from where the resulting crater was left in the mountain, Sequest State Park welcomes hikers, campers, mountain climbers, and lake goers to an environment that still bares the scars of a volcanic eruption.
Park rangers are instrumental to ensuring visitors have a safe and enlightening experience at the park, offering guided hikes, presentations, and interpretive talks to all who are interested. Rangers at Seaquest also operate the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center, which by itself welcomes more than 300,000 visitors from throughout the world every year. The park, its rangers, and the visitor center are all operated by Washington State Parks.
Besides providing entertaining educational opportunities for park visitors, rangers also conduct search and rescue operations as well as routine law enforcement.
The Job Duties of Park Rangers at Seaquest State Park
The park rangers at Seaquest ensure all partaking in the following activities do so in a safe manner while respecting the surrounding natural environment:
- Boating activities including fishing on Silver Lake
- Hiking on the park’s seven miles of trails or exploring the park’s amphitheater
- Bird watching
- 55 tent camping spaces and many other options for camper vehicles and yurts
- Six miles of wetland trail
Park rangers working at the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center are usually busy giving presentations and talking with visitors about events ranging from volcanology to anthropology. The most popular topic deals with the buildup, climax, and aftermath of the historic 1980 eruption. Over the past decade the mountain has also occasionally stirred, releasing clouds of hot gasses and steam, and has even forced the closure of the summit on a few occasions. Park rangers are on hand to explain these processes to the curious public.
Park rangers encourage visitors to follow the proper life-preserver regulations on Silver Lake and also make sure anglers are not catching more than their limit, as well as only catching what is allowed. If needed park rangers are able to make water rescues.
Park rangers at Seaquest have the power to arrest and detain visitors they witness breaking the law. Although most visitor center and state park guests are well-behaved and relaxed from being in a natural environment, there are always a few who are not. Rangers have law enforcement capabilities including:
- Conducting investigations
- Making arrests and referring charges for prosecution
- Directing traffic and crowds of people
- Conducting surveillance
- Issuing citations
Park rangers also make sure visiting groups of people are well accommodated during their stay at Seaquest. This includes ensuring the facilities are kept in order and maintained. Because of its close proximity to Mount Saint Helens, an international tourist destination, park rangers at Seaquest have been known to host:
- Boy scout troops
- Religious groups
- International tour groups
- Class reunions
- Wedding receptions
- Wilderness training exercises
Olympic National Park
Park rangers with the National Parks Service serving at Olympic National Park on Washington’s majestic Olympic Peninsula will experience the full range of natural splendor this diverse park has to offer:
- Natural hot springs
- The continental United States’ only rainforests
- Pacific coastline surf and tide pools
- Ancient jagged glacial peaks of the Olympic Mountains, the third-largest glacial system in the continental US
- A range of wildlife species including bear, elk, moose, cougar, and mountain goat
- 366 acres of spruce, cedar, and hemlock old-growth forest, with some tree trunks measuring over 25 feet across
Olympic National Park has several unique distinctions:
- The most-visited national park in the state, with an average of around three million sight-seers annually
- The park’s designation as an International Biosphere Reserve
- In 1981 Olympic National Park was deemed a World Heritage Site
Park rangers who are entrusted with managing this national treasure face a monumental task as they work to ensure ecosystem preservation and visitor safety.
Serving as a Park Ranger at Olympic National Park
A recent study released by the National Parks Service shows that tourism to Olympic National Park generated $220 million for the local economy and supported over 2,700 local jobs. Tourism to the Olympic Peninsula is so successful in large part due to park rangers, who ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors.
Protecting a great economic and natural resource is a big responsibility. Park rangers contribute to this in a number of ways:
- Park rangers recount the archeological history of the area to educate visitors. This covers such topics as the 1977 discovery of a mastodon which appeared to have been killed 12,000 years ago by a local inhabitant with a spear point. Also popular is a story about a 2,900 year-old woven basket discovered in a newly melted patch of snow in 1993.
- Law enforcement park rangers recently sprang into action to arrest three suspected vehicle prowlers after responding to back-to-back incidents. Rangers worked in concert with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and were investigating the first crime scene when they were dispatched to the call about an attempted second break-in. Using the information gained from a witness at this second site, park rangers and sheriff deputies were able to track down the burglars’ vehicle and recover stolen items from within, making three arrests.
- Park rangers specializing in rescue recently conducted one of their more difficult operations in recent memory, involving a man who had been thrown off a horse on the Little River Trail. Because his injuries were not sufficient enough to necessitate an air rescue, 15 park rangers had to carry the 50-year-old three miles on a wheeled litter to a waiting ambulance.