I recently decided it would be fun to start a series of National Park Ranger Interviews and, well, welcome to the first one! I figured instead of just sharing experiences from National Park Service, I would share all kinds of ranger stories. While Dani doesn’t work for NPS, she is a ranger for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Just keep in mind, the views expressed here are her own and are not reflective of Texas Parks and Wildlife in any way.
Where are you from: I grew up and went to college in SE Wisconsin. I moved to Carson City, NV for a year before accepting a Park Ranger position in Texas.
Favorite book: Harry Potter. No shame. And my favorite TV Show is Parks and Rec.
Favorite color and constellation: My favorite color is teal because it reminds me of glacial waters and Lake Tahoe. I love reading and hearing stories about Zeus! I know that doesn’t narrow down a constellation since he is involved in so many constellation stories. One of my favorites is how Zeus turned his mistress and son into bears and flung them into the sky to try and cover his affair (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor).
What is your dream trip outside of the parks: My dream park vacation would be Banff and outside of parks, I love mountains more than anything in the world so as long as I’m in the mountains, I’m happy. I would love to explore Europe and discover all the amazing history and see the Northern Lights one day.
Where do you work, how did you end up here, and what do you do: I am an Interpretive Park Ranger for Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. I am responsible for all of the outdoor education and outreach for my park. My schedule varies greatly day to day because I teach outdoor skills (kayaking, archery, Geocaching, camping, hiking, fishing, etc.), history, arts and crafts, give Ranger talks, provide guided scout programs, field trips, plan large special events, and coordinate/supervise volunteers.
Outside of the park, I represent the agency at fairs, career days, festivals, large events (like EarthX), in schools, community organizations (Lions Clubs, Neighborhood Associations, etc.) and I help out at other state parks when my fellow Rangers need a hand. Besides education I am also responsible for marketing (advertising park programs, social media, tabling events), interpretive documents (flyers, educational materials, brochures, etc.) my department budget, trail maintenance, invasive species removal, and interpretive signage. Some days I talk to 0 humans, and other days I talk to over 1,000 humans (for real).
What did you do to get the job (degree? volunteer experience? other relevant work experience?): For my department, my job requires a bachelor’s degree in any discipline and environmental education experience is a preferred qualification for interpretation. I have an Environmental Science bachelor’s degree and I have worked in environmental education since I was in college. In college, I was an intern for an urban farm and a supervisor for an Anaerobic Biodigester. After college, I worked as a supervisor for a Conservation Corps/Charteer School and at a Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Department at the Community Education Coordinator/Americorps VISTA. All of those experiences gave me environmental education experience.
Park Ranger positions are highly competitive so it’s important to try and get experience as soon as you can, which includes volunteering, PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, and internships. I encourage everyone who is interested in working for state or national parks to pursue AmeriCorps because I think it helped set my application apart from the other 300 people who applied for my job. AmeriCorps is such a rewarding and life-changing experience and when you complete your term you can receive an education award (or cash stipend) and you get government hiring status for a year (you’ll see that on USA Jobs, just like veterans and PeaceCorps).
What is your dream park to work at: This is a tough question since I am a mountain girl and would be happy at any park in the mountains. Some of my favorite parks are Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Sand Harbor (NV state park, Lake Tahoe).
Why did you want to become a ranger: My dad was a teacher so we took long family vacations every summer to national and state parks all over the country. I’ve been visiting parks since before I could walk and was a Junior Ranger at almost every park we visited. Those vacations inspired my love for nature so I knew at about 5 years old that I would become a Park Ranger one day. I met so many COOL Park Rangers growing up and they all inspired me to be a better steward and adventurer.
One of my most memorable Park Ranger experiences happened in Yosemite. Instead of using the bear box at the campground, our next door campsite neighbor left all of their food out on their picnic table and went to bed in their tent. So ~shockingly~ 2 black bears came during the night to raid their stash. We woke up to watch the bears dig into some Lay’s potato chips and Cheetos. After a couple minutes of campers throwing rocks near the bear’s feet to try and scare them off, a Park Ranger came running down the road into the site. He started yelling the bears’ names (they were both tagged) and running straight at them. They didn’t know what to do at first, then turned and started running. We all watched, mouths gaping open as he chased the two bears back up the mountain. As a 9 year old that was the most badass thing I’d ever seen (and is still in my top 5).
Lastly, my work in environmental justice also motivated me to be a Park Ranger. One of the non-profits I worked at employed at-risk-youth who were pursuing their high school diplomas. Part of the day the young adults attended classes with our teacher and the second half of the day I took them out and supervised them while we completed environmental service projects for the city, county, and state parks. They received a stipend for attending class and work hours, which contributed toward high school credits. Most of the students grew up homeless, struggled with addiction, or had recently been removed from public schools. On our breaks, I would engage with the students to make sure they knew I was on their team.
One particular day I had this conversation with a student: “Are you planning to do anything this weekend?” “No…there’s nothing safe to do here.” That line has stuck with me ever since. It rings in my head whenever I go into the community to bring park programs TO the public. It is SO IMPORTANT that we have FREE park programs at the city, county, state, and national parks. I go into the community as much as I can so that families who can’t afford it or don’t have transportation to get to a park, can still get that education right in their neighborhood.
What do you love most about the parks: I love that parks allow you to disconnect from screens, artificial lights, and the constant speed of civilization. I love that every park has unique geology, history, and landscapes to discover so every park experience is completely different. I also love that every park visitor is so different–people come from all over the world to visit our country’s parks and I love getting the chance to talk with them and bond over a park program, a difficult trail or a beautiful view.
Top tip for visiting the parks (don’t touch wildlife, go early, avoid holidays, etc): Take it easy when you enter a park. Don’t rush through hikes and activities to check everything off your list– slow down and enjoy each moment. Go the speed limit in parks and absorb the views. Remember that everyone in the park (Park Rangers, staff, visitors) are there to be outside and they love it just like you do–so smile, wave and/or get to know them.
Park Rangers love hearing about your hikes and adventures in the park and they love sharing their experiences too! I would encourage everyone to attend park programs if they can, you can learn something unique from every Park Ranger! Secondly, if you have fears (snakes, hiking difficulties, bears, etc.) reach out to a Park Ranger–the more knowledge you have about something that initially scares you–the less scary it becomes–this is also a part of the first principle of Leave No Trace.
Top five parks so far: Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Baxter State Park, Sequoia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Sand Harbor… oh shoot I could keep going.
Coolest park experience you’ve had so far (climbing the Teton, rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, seeing a pack of wolves attack a moose, etc.): There are so many amazing experiences to choose from. A couple that stand out: horseback riding up to a peak in the Tetons, whitewater rafting the Snake River, taking a mule ride down the Grand Canyon.
While working as a Park Ranger, there is one moment that stands out. We have a 160-year-old historic site at my park that I walk every morning to evaluate any maintenance needs. One early morning, I turned a corner in the woods and found myself about 3 feet from a young adult bobcat. We both froze. The bobcat stared at me for about 5 seconds, and then sat down, still only a couple feet away. He sat there and sized me up, then stared deep into my eyes. Everything around me felt like it stopped. After staring at me for about 20 seconds, he slowly stood up and walked back into the woods. It was a strange feeling, like we had connected for a calm and mesmerizing moment.
Dream park experience (rim to rim to rim, climb Half Dome, road trip to all the parks, etc): #1 Bucket list item is to visit every National Park in the U.S. (I’ve been to 21 so far). Also to climb Half Dome and backpack the entire PCT (not all at once, in a couple week increments).
Favorite hike and/or activity in a park: Two of my favorite hiking trails are Mount Rose and Mount Tallac. Both peaks overlook Lake Tahoe and are absolutely breathtaking.
Favorite outdoor activity: Hiking and kayaking. Solo hiking is definitely my favorite hobby, I love the empowered feeling at the top of a tough peak, knowing you conquered it alone.
If you could only visit one park for the rest of your life, which and why: Sand Harbor. There is so much hiking around Lake Tahoe and Sand Harbor has the best kayaking and the best sunsets I’ve ever seen! (Surprise, surprise I mentioned Lake Tahoe again lol)
Anything else you want to share? Never be afraid to try something new. I often get adults at outdoor skills programs who are embarrassed to tell me they’ve never fished, camped, hiked, etc. before. There is no need to be embarrassed! We are all new at some point, and who better to get some advice and dissolve fears with than a Park Ranger!? (In fact, we get MORE excited to share activities with you when you’ve NEVER done them before!!)
Lastly, find your local state park and join the Friends Group or volunteer! We are always looking for help and volunteering outside is such a rewarding experience!
What else would you like to see in future interviews? Have you ever wanted to be a park ranger?
Are you a ranger or do you know a ranger that would like to be featured? Send me an email! I would like to branch out into forest rangers and state park rangers as well, so get in touch if you’re interested!