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Steve Chiotakis: From Cape Cod to the wilds of Alaska, the National Park Service is responsible for preserving more than 80 million acres of scenic beauty. And as Gigi Douban reports from the
Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the job of park ranger is highly sought after these days.
Gigi Douban: Take me to the prettiest place in the park. Show me the best waterfall. Those are questions Carey Jones gets asked dozens of times every day at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The other question he hears all the time?
Carey Jones: How do I get a job here? Yeah, I hear that a lot. There's a lot more of that now than there was, say, 10 years ago, I think.
Jones is a park ranger. He retired, then recently returned as a seasonal employee.
Jones: As a ranger, he gets paid to hike through the woods, show people where salamanders hide, point out the difference between a black-capped chickadee and a Carolina chickadee.
Not a bad gig. Jobs with the National Park Service have always been competitive. But recently the government agency has been flooded with applicants. In the Washington office alone, they're getting four times more the number of applications than they did just a few years ago.
One of those hopefuls is Jennie Bradbury. Bradbury is 25. She works at a real estate office, renting cabins in nearby Gatlinburg. On her days off, she'd volunteer at the park.
Jennie Bradbury: But it was really fun and rewarding for me. I feel like I learned a lot about the park and did some good networking.
It paid off. Bradbury just landed a job as a forestry technician with the Park Service. She has a degree in wildlife ecology, so for her, spraying plants and treating infested trees is exciting stuff. Her job is seasonal, so she won't have health insurance. And it pays just $15 an hour. But she says it's worth it.
Bradbury: You can make a difference and it's nice to be outside and hike. I'm sure it'll be a lot of hard work but probably rewarding work.
And for young people, rewarding work is what it's about, says Ryan Paugh. He's co-founder of Brazen Careerist.com.
Ryan Paugh: They want a work life that sort of enhances their personal life and they're willing to take a lower salary because of that.
For Jones and Bradbury, six months of seasonal work is still work. And when that's up, they'll both be competing for another stint with the Park Service.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, I'm Gigi Douban for Marketplace.