Ranger Talk With Cory J. Cravatta

Welcome back to another Ranger Talk! It’s been a while, huh? If you’re new here, this is a little series where I interview park rangers from national parks, state parks, and forests! This week we’ve got Cory who most recently worked in Grand Teton, one of my own favorites.

My goal with this is to hopefully help people that want to work in the parks in the future get an idea of what it takes and help visitors get to know the people that love our parks and help keep them running.

If you want to see more interviews, head over here.  And before we get into it, all the views expressed here are his own and are not reflective of National Park Service in any way.

Name: Cory J. Cravatta

Where are you from: Northern Illinois

Favorite book: Toss up between Desert Solitaire and Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why: I have no idea

What is your dream trip outside of the parks: I am in no way fit enough or prepared for this but there is a river in Brazil that I’ve always dreamed of rafting. Its original name was Rio da Dúvida which in Portuguese means, River of Doubt.

It’s now called the Rio Roosevelt named after our 26th president, Theodore, who was on the first expedition to chart and map the entire length of the river. Its longer than the Mississippi, full of rapids, incredibly dangerous (even today), two people died when he did it four years AFTER he was president.

Where do you work (or most recently if you take seasons off) and what do you do: Most recently, I was a VUA (Visitor Use Assistant) in Grand Teton working at an entrance station.

What did you do to get the job (degree?  volunteer experience?  other relevant work experience?): Honestly, I just applied on a whim and got lucky.

Did you get a ranger job on your first try?  How long did it take if you didn’t? I did. I applied to 10-15 jobs my first try and ended up being offered, I think, seven of them. I worked in Yellowstone that season.

Have you worked at any other NPS units?  Which was your favorite? So far, I have only worked in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. They’ve both been wonderful, it would be difficult to pick a favorite.

I think I had more fun in Yellowstone but I worked in Grand Teton during 2020 so it was more difficult to hang out with people and do things outside of work that season than it had been in Yellowstone.

What is your dream park to work at: Glacier Bay but, really, any of the Alaskan parks. Alaska is, really, where my heart is. I absolutely adore wildlife and the Alaskan parks have more of that in quantity and variety than any of the others.

When I’m out and about in an ecosystem that has Grizzlies and Wolves there’s something humbling about knowing that we’re not, necessarily, the top of the food chain. It forces you to be more aware of yourself and your surroundings in a way that’s hard to replicate otherwise.

Why did you want to become a ranger: I work another job in the Spring and the Fall so I have a lot of free time. I’m incredibly conservation minded and have a deep love for and interest in the outdoors.

I spent a lot of time traveling about during my off time for a few years but eventually realized it was too expensive to live that way. A lot of people had told me I should be a park ranger, including a lot of park rangers, so I thought I’d give it a try.

How did you get interested in the parks: Lol, I think I kind of answered that in the last question but I’ll elaborate a bit. Before 2016 I had never really been anywhere. That summer I, somewhat impulsively, decided to take a series of trips that resulted in me road tripping all of the contiguous 48 states in one summer and then flying to Alaska.

Later that year I flew to Hawaii to make it all 50 states in one year. I was 35 years old that summer and I hadn’t been in a tent since I was 15 and had never set one up myself. Now, I’ve done multiple multi day backpacking trips. I’ve camped in almost every NPS site with “park” designation.

I’ve been to all 50 states, obviously, but I’ve been to most of them again since then too. Before 2016, I had probably hiked fewer than 20 miles in my life, since then I’ve probably done close to 1k. I hiked through deserts and swamps, up mountains and down canyons.

I’ve forded rivers, slogged through waist deep snow, and used a machete to clear a path through a rainforest. 2016 was the centennial of the park service, I didn’t know that until I started visiting parks that summer but as it turned out, the year the parks turned 100 I was kind of reborn in a way. That summer changed my life, it completely changed my priorities and what matters to me and I can’t even imagine going back.

What do you love most about the parks: Its really hard to pin point one thing.

Top tip for visiting the parks (don’t touch wildlife, go early, avoid holidays, etc): Get out of your car and hike. Even in parks with a “great” scenic drive, you don’t really see anything from a car. You farther you get from the roads, the crowds, the developed areas, the closer you get to what really makes the parks special.

What’s something most people don’t know about the parks: For some reason, the only things I can think of have to do with the job. People seem to be surprised when they find out that the parks charge us for the provided park housing and most of the housing is super old and run down.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to become a ranger? Everything people have told you about creating a succinct, single page, resume is a lie when it comes to this job.

You want to list every job you’ve ever worked and list every job duty you can think of in incredible detail. Pretend the people looking at it are clueless. My federal resume is, currently, 10 pages long and I’ve only done 3 jobs with the park service.

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about the job? My favorite thing is the opportunity to spend so much time surrounded by so much beauty with wonderful, amazing, like-minded people.

Least favorite is the application/hiring process. It is convoluted, confusing, and every year seems to get worse. Recently, due to an executive order from our last president, there are now “assessments” that have to be taken for the applications.

These are SAT style tests full of questions that aren’t remotely relevant to the positions, they take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to complete, and if you don’t do well enough on them your score will prevent you from even being considered for a job for a full year.

The process was already overly complicated before this, now, I fear, things like this are going to make some really good potential rangers decide the low pay isn’t worth all of the effort.

Top five parks so far (state or national): I like to keep my favorites secret. When places get publicized too much, and the instagrammers find them, they get overrun and the solitude and untrammeled qualities that make them wonderful in the first place are lost forever.

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.): Man, that’s a hard one. I think, maybe, it was camping in the backcountry in Denali. Listening to wolves calling from three different directions around my tent at night. Leaving my tent at 1 am to watch the Aurora. It was magical.

Dream park experience (rim to rim to rim, climb Half Dome, road trip to all the parks, etc): I don’t remember the name of the outfitter but, a while back, I found this outfitter trip that I really want to do. It leaves out of Fairbanks, Alaska on a float plane and you land on a lake in Gates of the Arctic National Park.

You spend a few days there exploring around that lake and then you take off on rafts down a river from the lake. Spend 8 days/nights on the water during the caribou migrations with the caribou herds crossing the river while you’re floating through them.

After the 8 days on the water you get picked up by a prop plane on a gravel strip in the wilderness and fly to the sand dunes in Kobuk Valley National Park and then spend 3 days exploring around there before taking off and flying back to civilization. I’ve wanted to do that trip since the first time I read about it.

What is one thing you always bring with you to the parks: I have a rubber Porky Pig. I always bring him on road trips and stuff. It’s really old. Originally I stole it out of my grandparent’s house to take funny pictures on a road trip in 2017.

That Christmas I gave my grandparents a calendar full of pictures of their Porky Pig all over the country. My grandma loved it and told me to keep Porky and to make them calendars every year. Grandma died a couple years ago but I still make my Grandpa a calendar every Christmas.

Favorite hike or activity in a park, or both: I don’t know if its my favorite ever or not but the hike to delicate arch in Arches National Park will always be special to me.  In 2016 when I did that first big impromptu road trip, I wasn’t only a complete noob to the outdoors, I was really out of shape too. 

When I visited Arches that summer I attempted to hike to Delicate Arch and I couldn’t make it.   The combination of the steepness of the terrain, the August heat, and my fitness level conspired to prevent me from making it up there.  By  the time I returned in 2017 I had lost a lot of weight, gotten into much better shape, and hiked a lot of miles.

I hiked up at sunrise.  There were very few people up there so it kind of felt like I had it to myself.  I sat on the red rock and staring at the arch feeling really proud of myself for accomplishing something that, less than a year ago before, felt unattainable. 

If you could only visit one park for the rest of your life, which and why:  If I had to pick, I’d go with Wrangell St. Elias entirely because they’re the largest park in the country so I figure I could spend a lifetime exploring there without seeing everything.

Want to see more? Follow his adventures through the parks on his Instagram!

If you’re a park ranger and would like to be featured, fill out the form below!

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