Ranger Talk With Steve Phan

Welcome back to another Ranger Talk! This week we’ve got Steve from Camp Nelson National Monument. There’s a lot of love for the smaller historic parks in here, which is awesome, and even more love for Grand Teton (three in a row!)

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: Steve Phan

Where are you from: Aurora, Colorado

Favorite book: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why: Giant Sequoia because they are mighty and enduring. And Colonel Charles Young, the first African American National Park Superintendent, has one named after him. 

What is your dream trip outside of the parks: Exploring the Line of Torres Vedras constructed during the Napoleonic Wars to protect the city of Lisbon in Portugal. 

Where do you work (or most recently if you take seasons off) and what do you do: Currently Acting Chief of Interpretation at Camp Nelson National Monument. I work at as a Park Ranger at the Civil War Defenses of Washington in DC. 

What did you do to get the job (degree?  volunteer experience?  other relevant work experience?):  ALL OF THE ABOVE. Volunteer and Internships at several national park units and a Master’s Degree in History (Middle Tennessee State University).

Did you get a ranger job on your first try?  How long did it take if you didn’t? No. I applied to over 100 seasonal positions and did receive even an interview. I got my first seasonal position in graduate school in 2015. So from my first internship, it took 3 years to get a seasonal gig. 

Have you worked at any other NPS units?  Which was your favorite?:

Internships: Gettysburg National Military Park and Richmond National Battlefield Park

Volunteer: Stones River National Battlefield

Seasonal Positions: Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Rock Creek Park

Details: Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Camp Nelson National Monument

All parks are special. Favorite: All roads lead back to Gettysburg.

What is your dream park to work at: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Why did you want to become a ranger: Connect communities of color to public lands; share our country’s rich, dynamic and often tragic history to the public; preserve public lands

How did you get interested in the parks: My first introduction to the National Park Service was as intern at Gettysburg National Military Park in 2012. It was a transformative experience. I was fortunate to work with some amazing rangers and historians, and realized this is the career I’d like to pursue. 

What do you love most about the parks: The stories embedded in the landscape waiting to be amplified for the public. Meeting people from around the world who are inspired to visit public lands. 

Top tip for visiting the parks (don’t touch wildlife, go early, avoid holidays, etc): Take your time. Explore all you can starting at the visitor center/contact station. Engage park staff who will provide invaluable information about park resources. Be prepared for the unexpected on your visit. LEAVE NO TRACE. The parks are here for everyone. Enjoy.

What’s something most people don’t know about the parks: That the National Park Service consists on a diverse array of units, including battlefields, recreation areas, monuments and more.

The parks also consist of many divisions that work in the background, including administration, natural and cultural resources, maintenance and facilities, interpretation and education, and law enforcement. It is a team effort!

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to become a ranger? Understand that this is a long journey full of twists and turns, and you may do everything right (volunteer, internships, seasonals) and may never get a permanent position. Is it worth it? I certainly believe so. Enjoy the experience. It’s truly one of a kind and you will be a better person for pursuing it. 

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about the job? I’m grateful to wear the uniform and walk into the park for work each day. A national park as your office? It doesn’t get better than that. It’s a true blessing and I’m grateful to be part of the NPS.

Least. No answer! I work in a national park! Well, that is an answer. I don’t take this for granted, and look forward to putting on the uniform, engaging the public, and protecting this incredible cultural and natural resources. 

Top five parks so far (state or national): Grand Teton National Park, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Gettysburg National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and Denali National Park 

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.): Leading the 147th New York Infantry into action for the 155th Battle of Gettysburg Commemoration in 2019.

Dream park experience (rim to rim to rim, climb Half Dome, road trip to all the parks, etc): Visit Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

What is one thing you always bring with you to the parks: Water bottle, comfortable hiking boots, and a camera.

Favorite hike or activity in a park, or both: Exploring battlefields with historic maps and images.

If you could only visit one park for the rest of your life, which and why: There’s too many parks to just visit one for the rest of my life, but If I must choose, it would be Grand Teton National Park. I was fortunate to do a 2-week detail there in 2019 and it was absolutely magical. The Teton Range is special and becomes part of your soul.

Anything else you want to share? There are over 420 national park units. Visit them! Spend time. Take your time. Join a ranger program. Watch the orientation video. Find Your Park. 

Follow along on his adventures in the parks over on Instagram!

Are you a park ranger (state, national park, forest, BLM, something else?) and interested in being featured? Fill out the form below and I’ll get back to you!

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