With 49 state-managed parks, trails and wilderness areas plus six national parks with over a million visitors every year, park rangers in West Virginia have their hands full. Many of the state’s parks were established after the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government agency whose existence allowed for the employment of countless Americans and at the same time made the wilderness experience possible for the many park visitors that enjoy it today.
Park rangers are responsible for the management of the state’s parks and wildlife areas to ensure the public has an unforgettable experience, while at the same time ensuring a minimal environmental impact.
Learning how to become a park ranger in West Virginia with the Division of Natural Resources State Parks and Forests will prepare applicants to make a successful bid for employment.
Park Ranger Careers with West Virginia State Parks and Forests
Meeting Basic Qualifications – The first step in any successful application is to meet the basic qualifications. In West Virginia, park ranger requirements include:
- A bachelor’s degree in any of the following subjects:
- Business Administration
- Public Administration
- Sciences such as Botany, Geology, or Zoology
- Park or Resort Management
- Natural History
- A valid driver’s license
- No felony convictions or other serious criminal offenses
- 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
Applicants who do not have a bachelor’s degree in the above subjects may substitute for this by meeting the following two requirements:
- Two years of college education, or an equivalent combination of education and relevant work experience by holders of a high school diploma or its equivalent
- Six months of paid work experience in a relevant area
Applying with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources State Parks and Forests – Prospective applicants will need to find a park ranger vacancy posted on the state’s employment webpage and must apply online through the announcement. If there are no current postings for park ranger jobs, applicants can sign up to be notified by email when these become available.
Applications will be screened to ensure they meet the minimum requirements, and applicants will be notified if selected to continue in the hiring process. This process is designed to select the top qualifying candidate or candidates for employment, who should be prepared to for:
- Panel interview
- Background investigation
- Medical examination
- Psychological assessment
Training – Much of the park ranger training takes place on-the-job at a ranger’s assigned location. However the Law Enforcement Section of the Division of Natural Resources also mandates the completion of special conservation officer and pistol training. Training will empower new employees to be able to carry out their job duties, which include:
- Report writing
- Patrol strategies
- Law enforcement
- Facility management
- Budget preparation and control
Park Ranger Career Requirements with the National Park Service in West Virginia
Working with the National Park Service is another option for those pursuing employment as a park ranger in West Virginia. This federal agency is completely different from the state Division of Natural Resources, and therefore has its own minimum standards for park ranger applicants:
- A bachelor degree in an area specific to the park ranger’s specialization. This can include:
- Criminal Justice
- Law Enforcement
- Crime Scene Investigation
- US citizenship
- Driver’s license
- No serious criminal convictions
- Must be able to pass:
- Drug test
- Background investigation
- Medical and psychological evaluation
Candidates can substitute for a bachelor degree by having one year of specialized work experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience. More advanced park ranger positions will require additional education or experience. Positions focusing on law enforcement may also require applicants to be at least 21 years old and have attended a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP). Applications for these positions must be made online through the job announcement.
Federal park rangers in West Virginia assist their state counterparts as needed and also manage historic Civil War battlefield sites such as:
- Camp Elkwater Battlefield
- Antietam National Battlefield
- Harpers Ferry Battlefield
Park Rangers at Work in West Virginia
Experienced park rangers in West Virginia still talk about catching a murderer who was wandering alone on the Appalachian Trail, where he also killed two other victims. West Virginia park rangers had been alerted that the suspect was in the Harpers Ferry vicinity and worked to ascertain his possible locations based on his last known sighting. A team finally located the man thanks to a tip from an experienced hiker and brought him into custody. Although the encounter was not typical for park rangers, it did demonstrate that in their line of work they can come across anyone – even dangerous criminals.
If they deal with crime at all it is not usually murder, a fact that was more recently demonstrated when park rangers arrested two men suspected of stealing rock climbing equipment from a recreation store in Seneca Rocks. After conducting a surveillance investigation, rangers arrested the two alleged thieves at a popular rock climbing area after being tipped off by another climber that the pair was using stolen equipment.
West Virginia Park Ranger Salaries
The National Park Service reports that there are currently 6 national parks throughout West Virginia. In fact, during 2012, West Virginia’s national parks brought in more than $63 million in revenue to the state, although it’s the West Virginia State Parks & Forests that employs park rangers. Park rangers have the incredible responsibility of managing parks like Kanawha State Forest in Charleston, Beech Fork State Park near Huntington, and Blennerhassett State Park in Parkersburg as well as several others.
The entry-level park ranger salary in West Virginia is $23,724, although the maximum annual salary is nearly 46% more at $43,896. There are also upper-level management careers which park rangers might chose to pursue, including:
Park Superintendent 1
- Minimum: $24,912
- Maximum: $46,092
Park Superintendent 2
- Minimum: $26,160
- Maximum: $48,396
Park Superintendent 3
- Minimum: $27,732
- Maximum: $51,312
Park Superintendent 4
- Minimum: $29,400
- Maximum: $54,396
Park Superintendent 5
- Minimum: $31,164
- Maximum: $57,660
More park ranger salaries are shown in the following tables, including those with different occupational titles:
Recreation Workers Salaries in West Virginia
Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in West Virginia
Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in West Virginia
Chief Logan State Park
Located just off Highway 119 an hour’s drive south of Charleston, Chief Logan State Park is one of West Virginia’s most popular destinations. Every year tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area to enjoy the many amenities the park has to offer:
- Drama plays and musicals at the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater
- 18 miles of hiking trails
- 4,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness
- Wildlife exhibitions
- Museum in the Park
- Swimming and camping areas
- Historic steam locomotive display
Chief Logan State Park is a favorite among many of West Virginia’s park rangers. Chief Logan’s park rangers are responsible for creating a memorable interaction between the park’s visitors and the wildlife that calls the area home. In addition to managing the Chief Logan facilities, rangers lead activities and hikes, as well as serve as first-responder emergency coordinators.
Those who are interested in learning more about how to become a park ranger in Chief Logan State Park can begin by researching the hiring requirements for these positions. Hiring requirements are set by West Virginia State Parks, an agency within the Division of Natural Resources.
Working as a Park Ranger at Chief Logan State Park
Park rangers are involved with virtually every park activity that goes on at Chief Logan, and there are many for visitors to choose from. The duties of a ranger at this location also include promoting public safety and park rules, and that means conducting patrols and rescues as needed. Some of the more recent events at Chief Logan serve as good examples for the many aspects of park ranger jobs at this location:
Two high school students decided to go for a short hike at the park, and realized they should turn back too late as it was already getting dark. Their second mistake was proceeding ahead on the trail loop they were on, believing it would be a shorter way back. Park rangers are called to rescue such hikers many times every year.
Every year for over a quarter century park rangers have been leading groups of hikers through some of the park’s most scenic areas on the annual Sue Browning Wildflower hike. Rangers explain the many species of the blossoming and sweet smelling spring arrivals, an activity that also helps to promote local tourism.
During the winter holiday season park rangers help to organize the popular Christmas in the Park program, involving decorative lights and stage animations placed throughout Chief Logan. The event draws thousands of visitors to the park every year, among whom recently was the governor.
Park rangers also coordinate training exercises that take place in the Chief Logan State Park, with a recent operation involving the Boone Composite Squadron and West Virginia Wing Civil Air Patrols. The exercises featured one of the groups simulating a crashed aircraft scenario complete with a locator beacon, with the second group practicing their search and rescue capabilities.
Crime scene investigation and coordination with local and federal law enforcement agencies are also part of a ranger’s duties at the state park. These skills were needed recently when rangers were called to respond to a vandalism event targeting the park’s namesake statue of Chief John Logan, the famous leader of the Cayuga Tribe, also known as the Mingo Tribe.
New River Gorge National River
Despite its name, the New River is actually one of the oldest rivers on the planet. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years it has cut its way through the Appalachian Mountains to form what we know today to be one of the most scenic places in the United States, and which more than 1.1 million people visit every year. Park rangers with the National Park Service are in charge of managing the 70,000-acre expanse known as the New River Gorge National River, part of a force of about 140 employees.
This federally protected area is much more than just a river gorge; it is also home to thousands of wildlife species as well as a human history that stretches back at least 10,000 years. Park rangers must preserve these national treasures while at the same time ensuring the throngs of visitors are safe and educationally enriched. The National Park Service sets a competitive bar to ensure prospective rangers are up for this challenge.
Working as a Park Ranger along the New River Gorge National River
There is never dull moment for park rangers working along the New River Gorge. If they are not rescuing someone they may be leading a park activity for visitors. And those are just a few of the key tasks these vital public servants perform.
Interpretive park rangers lead activities such as:
- New River Gorge Wildflower Weekend: in spring park rangers take visitors along some of the park’s 100-plus miles of trail to encounter some of nature’s newest arrivals: wildflowers. Rangers describe the many different species of these Appalachian beauties.
- Whitewater rafting and swiftwater rescue: experience river rangers teach beginners or more advanced kayakers and rafters survival and rescue techniques.
- Youth Arts in the Parks Nature Festival: rangers instruct grade schoolers on Appalachian ecology and wildlife through some of their more creative outlets.
Park rangers are also on hand to manage the crowds and keep everyone safe during the annual Bridge Day celebration held on the third Saturday of every October. What started as a celebration of the 1977 completion of the New River Gorge Bridge has today become an event that draws around 100,000 people.
Bridge Day is one of the few days BASE jumping is permitted anywhere in territories managed by the National Park Service, and each year about 400 participants parachute 876 feet down to the river below. Other bridge day celebrants include bungee jumpers and rappellers.
Pipestem Resort State Park
A native shrub that grows throughout the Bluestone Gorge was used for many years to construct tobacco pipes, and that is where Pipestem Resort State Park got its name. Today a golf course, horse stables, restaurants, and hotels are interspersed in this forested area with rolling green hills. Besides these resort amenities, the park is also a favorite for nature lovers who come to enjoy miles of trails, and cultural enthusiasts that come for theatrical performances at the park’s amphitheater. The park rangers who ensure visitors stay safe and that park facilities operate effectively are the backbone of Pipestem Park.
Pipestem’s park rangers work for West Virginia State Parks, an agency under the state’s Division of Natural Resources. Prospective park rangers interested in working at this 4,000-plus acre state park will be well served to learn about the job requirements so as to begin preparing in advance.
Life as a Pipestem Resort Park Ranger
Don’t let its name be misleading- although Pipestem is a resort with many associated amenities, it is mostly a vast expanse of wilderness and rolling hill forests. Park rangers working in this environment are responsible for everything from overseeing Pipestem’s facility operations to leading guided hikes and providing natural history presentations.
Some recent examples of park ranger operations at Pipestem Resort include:
- Park ranger surveys of eagles nesting in or passing through Pipestem Resort. Recently five golden eagles and 27 bald eagles were spotted on one occasion.
- Rangers recently led volunteers through the park on an expedition termed the Garlic Mustard Pull. Visitors pulled up this invasive flower whenever they saw one in an attempt to restore habitat for native plant and fungi species.
- Interestingly enough, park rangers did nothing after hearing reports about a suspected murder committed within Pipestem Resort’s limits. That is because this particular murder was fictional, part of a murder-mystery theater put on by an acting troupe at the park’s amphitheater. Park rangers supervise these events – which also include dances and music festivals – to ensure everything runs smoothly and guests find their way around.
Interpretive events are favorites for many rangers, who recount how the area around Pipestem Resort looked hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years ago:
- Rangers lead visitors along a 1.5-mile trail, taking them past a former residence and schoolhouse dating back generations, all the while explaining the history of human settlement in the area. On a different one mile loop, rangers explain how life was for early European settlers in the 1700s.
- Park rangers additionally lead visitors through the valleys and hilltops of Pipestem, explaining how the hills along the Bluestone Gorge were once a jagged mountain range extending through Morocco when the continents were colliding to form the Pangaea supercontinent.
Park rangers also facilitate training exercises at Pipestem Resort, with a recent event involving the Pipestem Volunteer Fire Department. This exercise was to prepare rescue teams for a malfunction scenario with the aerial tram, which takes visitors hundreds of feet down the side of a hill to a hotel and trailhead. Harnessed rescue workers gained access to the aerial tram and were able to connect cables and safety equipment which would have made the successful rescue of stuck passengers possible.