Wisconsin Park Ranger Training and Degree Requirements

In Wisconsin, park rangers are responsible for 66 recreation and wildlife areas covering more than 150 square miles. Over 14 million visitors enjoy these locations in the great outdoors every year, thanks in large part to the efforts of park rangers. These areas include Ice Age trails, cliffs, waterfalls, bluffs and beaches; some of the most breathtaking scenic spots in the country.

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Park rangers will say that although they are at work in places where most people go to get fresh air, they still have time to enjoy their natural surroundings too. In fact, many choose this line of employment precisely because it allows them so many opportunities to appreciate the environment.

Becoming a park ranger in the state takes dedication and hard work park rangers in Wisconsin fulfill a wide role of functions, including:

  • Law enforcement patrols on land and water
  • Crime scene investigation and evidence collection
  • Accident and fire investigation
  • Court officer duties
  • Park maintenance and development
  • Providing visitor information

Park Ranger Positions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources State Park System

Minimum Requirements – To become a park ranger in Wisconsin requires a college degree and certification as a law enforcement officer:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • A two-year college degree within five years of employment
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Have no felony convictions or domestic violence misdemeanor convictions

Besides fulfilling the minimum park ranger requirements, candidates are shown preference if they have the following:

  • A bachelor degree in:
    • Wildlife Management
    • Parks and Recreation
    • Biology
  • Experience from volunteeringinterning, or working in an environment that would bestow useful park ranger experience, such as:
    • Nature center
    • Outdoor education center
    • State parks and forests
    • National parks and forests

Having a four-year degree in any of the following subjects will additionally help to qualify candidates for federal park ranger jobs, which will be discussed shortly:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Law Enforcement
  • Archeology
  • Business Administration

Applications with the Department of Natural Resources – Vacant park ranger jobs are posted on the DNR employment opportunities webpage. Submission instructions are provided within job announcements, and these can be found in both the permanent and limited-term employment categories. Applicants can also sign up to be notified of job vacancies through the employment webpage.

As part of the application process, candidates will be subject to:

  • Interview
  • Drug screening
  • Psychological assessment
  • Medical exam
  • Hearing and vision exam
  • Background investigation

Training – Park ranger training takes place in several phases. For starters, because park rangers are certified law enforcement officers, they must make it through basic police training which is approved by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board. The DNR will register new rangers for the academy, which is a 520-hour course providing detailed instruction on:

  • Emergency vehicle driving, operations, and control
  • Firearms training
  • Self-defense
  • Arrest techniques
  • Professional communication skills
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Wisconsin statutes and laws

Law enforcement training will be supplemented with specific park ranger training that will prepare new rangers to carry out their job duties professionally and effectively.

Federal Park Ranger Positions with the National Parks Service

Federal park ranger positions with the National Parks Service are also an option in Wisconsin. These federal employees can participate in joint operations with state and local law enforcement, although they primarily manage federal wildlife areas in the state such as:

  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Effigy Mounds National Monument
  • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
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To become a federal park ranger, applicants will need to meet another set of minimum requirements:

  • A bachelor degree in an area of expertise related to ranger duties, or at least one year of specialized experience in a relevant occupation field, or an equivalent combination of the two
  • US citizenship
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Be able to pass a medical and psychological evaluation
  • Pass a drug test

Federal park rangers have a variety of functions, and those who are focused on law enforcement may additionally need to complete a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP).

Applications for these positions can be made through the federal government’s main employment website.

Wisconsin’s Park Rangers in Action

Park rangers perform many functions across Wisconsin. Most recently, this has included measuring the effects of the most current severe winter season on the wild deer and turkey populations. Wildlife managers have received reports from park rangers about populations of these two groups that have been found dead because of the harsh conditions, especially in the northern regions of the state where there have been more than 30 inches of snow. Park rangers will help to gather statistics to determine hunting limits later in the season.

Park rangers also participate in the Maple Syrup Festival near Poynette. During this event guided tours are offered showing visitors how to tap a maple tree and explaining the cultural and historic importance of the trees to both the native tribes of the area and pioneers who later migrated to the region.

Wisconsin Park Ranger Salaries

In Wisconsin, park rangers work for the Wisconsin State Park System, which is a subset of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They manage and operate parks like Capital Springs State Park and Recreation Area near Madison, Havenwoods State Forest and Lakeshore State Park near Milwaukee, and Heritage Hill State Park near Green Bay.

The entry-level park police salary in WI is $41,683, which is an approximate hourly wage of $20.04. Their maximum salary is $71,279. In addition, there are other parks careers worth mentioning because of their similarities to that of park rangers, such as:

Parks & Recreation Specialist

  • Minimum: $35,509
  • Maximum: $58,591

Parks & Recreation Specialist – Advanced/Senior/Senior Mgmt

  • Minimum: $46,273
  • Maximum: $76,352

It’s also worth noting that Dane County, which includes Madison, Wisconsin, employs its own park rangers to patrol and manage the parks throughout the county. Their annual salary begins at $44,865 and maxes out at $49,275.

Because park rangers handle a variety of tasks and assume many titles, the following tables can provide additional salary data regarding park rangers in Wisconsin and their various roles:

Recreation Workers Salaries in Wisconsin

Area name
Annual mean wage
Appleton WI
Estimate Not Released
Duluth MN-WI
Eau Claire WI
Fond du Lac WI
Green Bay WI
Janesville WI
La Crosse WI-MN
Lake County-Kenosha County IL-WI Metropolitan Division
Madison WI
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI
Oshkosh-Neenah WI
Racine WI
Sheboygan WI
Wausau WI
Eastern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
West Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
South Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Southwestern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Northern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area

Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Wisconsin

Area name
Annual mean wage
Duluth MN-WI
Madison WI
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI
Eastern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Estimate Not Released
West Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Northern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Estimate Not Released

Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Wisconsin

Area name
Annual mean wage
Duluth MN-WI
Green Bay WI
La Crosse WI-MN
Lake County-Kenosha County IL-WI Metropolitan Division
Madison WI
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI
Oshkosh-Neenah WI
Estimate Not Released
Racine WI
Sheboygan WI
Eastern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
West Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
South Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Northern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area

Devil’s Lake State Park

Superlatives are in order when it comes to Devil’s Lake State Park, as it is the largest, most visited, and third-oldest state park in all of Wisconsin. The park features the 360-acre lake plus 500-foot quartzite bluffs, a visitor center, boat rentals, and nearby camp sites. Devil’s Lake is also a scenic stopover for people hiking the 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a pathway taking outdoor enthusiasts through ancient areas carved out by glaciers as recently – in geological time – as tens of thousands of years ago.

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Park rangers at Devil’s Lake State Park are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring park visitors are safe and that park facilities are maintained. Rangers also give presentations and can coordinate rescue operations as needed.

Managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), last year the park earned the most revenue of any other in the state, with some 2.2 million visitors spending in excess of two million dollars.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Park Rangers at Work at Devil’s Lake

Besides their usual duties of explaining local history, leading activities for visitors, and running the operations at Devil’s Lake, park rangers must be ever-ready to face the unexpected. This has recently included these events:

  • Responding to the death of a woman who fell off a cliff after hiking on an unmarked trail. Although deaths at Devil’s Lake are relatively rare, park rangers respond to events of serious injury several times annually. Special rescue personnel are trained to respond specifically to the park’s steep cliff sides and difficult repels.
  • Park rangers had to organize masses of protestors when a controversial politician came to celebrate Devil’s Lake’s 100th anniversary as a state park.
  • Rescues on Devil’s Lake are also a regular part of a ranger’s duties, and usually take place a couple times every year. Rangers must be mentally prepared to face the prospect of notifying the loved ones of drowning victims. On rare occasions these accidents do happen.
  • Because the park is open year round, winter rescues are also necessary. This recently happened in February when a man who had been taking pictures in the park realized he had lost the trail he was on and it was getting dark. As he was trying to find his way back to a path he fell 15 feet down a small cliff and became stuck below. Luckily he had cell phone reception, and park rangers were alerted. Using the flash from the man’s camera as a location beacon, rescue crews were able to save the man and transport him to a local hospital, where he received treatment for hypothermia.

Park rangers are often asked by visitors about the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. This passes through Devil’s Lake State Park, and park rangers always enjoy recounting what the area looked like at the end of the last ice age 12 millennia ago:

  • Wooly mammoths, eight-ton bison, and 500-pound beaver roamed the area
  • Devil’s lake was at the edge of the 4,000-mile-long Wisconsin Glacier, which stretched from New York to Washington State
  • 800-ton boulders scattered throughout the area were deposited like pebbles by the Wisconsin Glacier
  • Devil’s Lake itself was formed by the waters from the melting glacier around 12,000 years ago

Peninsula State Park

Jutting out as the barrier between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Peninsula State Park is one of Wisconsin’s most popular destinations, hosting more than one million visitors every year. Park rangers, who have law enforcement officer (LEO) status in Wisconsin, manage the park’s amenities while preserving its natural beauty:

  • Rental equipment, park fees, and 468 campsites
  • White Cedar Nature Center, American Folklore Theatre, and six picnic areas
  • Patrolling camping, swimming, boating, and hiking areas including Horseshoe Island
  • Surveying wildlife habitat
  • Enforcing the law and park rules, as well as conducting rescue operations

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in charge of managing Wisconsin’s system of state parks, which includes hiring the park rangers that serve them.

Serving as a Park Ranger at Peninsula State Park

Peninsula State Park just hired two new full-time rangers to join its team of dedicated professionals who help facilitate the visiting public’s enjoyment of the park’s natural wonder. A ranger in Peninsula Park can participate in many duties, chief among these being law enforcement and public safety operations.

The 3,776-acre park is used year round, and that means park rangers need to be accustomed to conducting patrols in the snow and ice as well as the hot sun or darkness. The park also boasts vast stretches of multi-use trails which rangers will need to familiarize themselves with, as well as 18 miles of shoreline and many additional acres of lake.

Park rangers can also be called upon to act as first responders who assist with vehicle accidents, wilderness emergencies, maritime emergencies, plus search and rescue operations.

When not on patrol, park rangers at Peninsula may also be involved in assisting other personnel or providing directions to the public. This includes being a part of events like:

  • American Folklore Theatre, which sees more than 50,000 people attending its musicals and plays every year
  • Supporting wildlife rescue operations led by DNR biologists and invasive species experts
  • Supporting naturalists who put on events at the White Cedar Nature Center, which include:
    • Meadow walk with details about the park’s natural and biological history
    • Shore walk, which details information about the Peninsula Park’s marine neighbors as well as the ever amusing Scat Chat
    • Geology talks on the prehistoric formation of Peninsula Park and Lake Michigan’s features
  • On their downtime park rangers can enjoy all of the park’s amenities, including its 18-hole golf course

Community involvement is another important part of a ranger’s duties. Park rangers participate in outreach activities such as going to local elementary schools and meeting with civic groups such as the Friends of Peninsular State Park. They can also conduct joint training or real life missions with other law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

Two hundred twenty-five miles of pure refreshing water meanders through the green pastures and forests of northwestern Wisconsin and east central Minnesota, making up the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. Two rivers are encompassed in this federally protected area, the Saint Croix River and the Namekagon River.

As one of the original eight waterways in the country designated as a National Wild and Scenic Rivers System , this entire drainage basin is protected from development to preserve its natural beauty and function.

Park rangers with the National Park Service are charged with ensuring that all who come to appreciate this national treasure do so in a respectful and safe manner, while at the same time making the experience as enjoyable as possible for visitors.

What to Expect While Working as a Park Ranger at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

There is no typical day as a park ranger along the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, and rangers can expect to perform a variety of duties from patrols to rescues.

Interpretive rangers regularly dazzle visitors with stories on any number of topics:

  • Human habitation in the area dating back at least 10,000 years, based on archeological evidence from burial mounds, quarries, and rock art
  • Tales about old icehouses along the riverway. Before refrigeration was invented, ice would be cut in the winter and stored in ice houses covered with sawdust for use many months after the last frost
  • Answering questions on ranger-recommended river routes for popular canoe day trips and camping spots

Park rangers along the riverway also play an important role when it comes to monitoring river pollution. In the past a 20-mile stretch between Stillwater and Prescott has been placed on the impaired-waters list, meaning it did not conform to the standards laid out in the Clean Water Act. If park rangers are not collecting water samples themselves, they are directing water quality experts on the best places to take samples.

Park rangers also have an important duty to rescue people along the riverway. Every year, out of the 318,000-plus visitors who enjoy the waterway, a few need rescuing. This was the case recently when a group of 16 YMCA campers decided to make a nighttime canoe ride from the Schoen Park Landing to a campsite downstream. Because of unexpectedly high and swift waters, several of the canoes capsized, throwing the campers into the night waters. Park rangers coordinated the rescue effort with local law enforcement and medical agencies using boats and hovercrafts.

Willow River State Park

Just five miles northeast of Hudson, visitors to Willow River State Park are treated to around 3,000 acres of forest, prairie, river, and lake paradise. The highlight of the park is Willow Falls, where the Willow River cascades down the middle of a rocky gorge. This is a favorite area for water enthusiasts who can cool off in the falls on a hot summer day, or go swimming in Little Falls Lake just downstream. However this state park offers more than just swimming, boating, and fishing opportunities; outdoor enthusiasts can also enjoy 13 miles of hiking trails, camping, and numerous winter activities.

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Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employs the park rangers responsible for looking after Willow River State Park to ensure its visitors are safe and law abiding. Willow River would not be the secure and enjoyable place it is today without its park rangers, who also facilitate other park activities.

Willow River State Park Ranger Job Duties

Although DNR park rangers at Willow River State Park fulfill a specific law enforcement and public safety role, they also participate in a number of other duties that can range from assisting other staff members to supervising events.

First Responders – The park ranger’s role as a first responder was recently demonstrated in two events at Willow River:

  • Park rangers were alerted when suspected human remains were discovered in the park next to a partially buried sleeping bag. Local law enforcement officials and the Saint Croix County Medical Examiner were also notified and took part in the investigation. Forensic experts processed the area, which was considered a crime scene.
  • The majestic cliffs at Willow River attract hikers every year, one of whom recently fell 20 feet off one of these ledges and was seriously injured. Park rangers were immediately notified and participated in a joint rescue operation with the Saint Croix EMS, a Life Link helicopter, and the Hudson Fire Department. Rangers who were familiar with the area directed emergency units to the fallen hiker and determined the best location for a landing zone. The operation was coordinated from an emergency command center.

Park Operations – Park rangers at Willow River also make sure park operations function smoothly, from assisting their colleagues to providing a safe environment and rescues if needed. Throughout the year the park offers its more than half a million visitors plenty of activities to choose from.

In winter months, visitors can sign up for snow shoeing lessons. These are guided walks that take place along a guided trail for people of all skill levels. Anyone can enjoy these events as they are free and open to the public.

Also during the winter, hikers, skiers, and dog sledders can take advantage of two miles of hard-packed trails as well as nine miles of cross-country ski trails.

The Willow River State Park Nature Center is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, and provides those who stop by with a variety of exciting interpretive and natural programs. These include presentations about the park’s specific wildlife, cultural history, geology and ecosystems.

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