At the end of November, I finished up my internship as an Interpretation Ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a national park ranger. There were a lot of things that surprised me, and there were some expectations that I had that were confirmed.
Being a park ranger seems like the best job in the world. What I found out however is that it is not a perfect job. As seen by the government shut down, being a park ranger is susceptible to the ebb and flow of government developments. Because of that, many things are affected, primarily funding. A park ranger’s job is almost never safe. Sometimes, a long time dedicated ranger might not be able to return to their job due to funding cuts (as in, their job could be eliminated, if it’s a seasonal job or subject to furlough). Park rangers are also subject to fairly irregular work schedules, including weekends and holidays. Many times when others are off on holidays, your park rangers are still working, for you. And despite how it might seem, not everyone who works in a national park is awesome.
HOWEVER, most of the people that work in the park are, in fact, AWESOME! I was a part of an amazing team, from Interpreters, Maintenance, Law Enforcement, Resource people, that were all doing amazing work, and working together, to help keep the Smokies an amazing place to visit. While an irregular schedule can stink sometimes, it allows you to experience the park in many different lights, so to speak. Additionally, as a park ranger, there are many moments that make you remember “that’s why I’m here!” and forget all the government nonsense. It’s times like those, like when a kid’s jaw drops when he/she sees a bear for the first time or a kid comes up and hugs you because he/she had so much fun at their Junior Ranger Program, that make you realize what a special job it is to be a park ranger. Sometimes, an old timer will come up to you and tell you a story about their time in that place, and it helps confirm why that park is, in fact, such a special place. It makes you grateful for the opportunity to be a ranger. As a park ranger, you have a special place in “the circle of life” and history. You learn a lot as a park ranger. That’s why being a park ranger amazing.
Not to mention the unique experience of working at GSMNP. I have never been a place where the wildlife is more diverse, abundant, and active. I don’t have the words to describe it, it must be experienced for oneself.
After being a ranger for three months, I am convinced of two things: 1. There’s no such thing as a perfect job. 2. If there is any job that is close to being perfect, it is being a park ranger.
So, despite the trials of trying to become an official national park ranger (it ain’t easy), my motivation to live out my dream is not harmed. In fact, after my three month internship, I am even more inspired. Let the quest begin…
Another perk of working in a great big natural park? You have the opportunity to hike A LOT! (check out my next post: “A Reflection: Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park”).
Please visit your nearest national park, get out, hike, and talk to a ranger! Enjoy!