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How to be a...

How to be a park ranger

Eliza Mills Jan 21, 2019
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Andrew LaValle switched careers to spend more time outdoors.
Andrew LaValle

Update (Jan. 22,2019): This interview was conducted before the partial government shutdown started on Dec. 22. 

Everyone has a dream job growing up: doctor, vet, ice cream taste tester. But how do you actually get the gig? Marketplace is looking into how with the occasional series “How to Be a …


My name is Andrew LaValle, and I’m a visual information specialist at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawai’i. Previously, I was at Katmai National Park in Alaska.

I was working at a university several years ago. I found myself sitting at my desk in my cubicle under fluorescent lights, daydreaming about my next vacation — what national park I was going to explore, where I could go camp, what mountains I could go climb. So I took the leap, a big career left turn for me, and I decided to become a park ranger.

Broadly speaking, in the park service we have law enforcement rangers. There are also what we call interpretive rangers, which is technically what I am, and it’s our job to interpret the history and natural environment. Basically education and outreach is another way of putting that. And then you also have natural resources staff, so those are the folks who are studying the biology of an ecosystem, monitoring our wildlife, things like that.

It’s a common myth that you have to major in environmental sciences. We have architects on staff, geologists, wildlife biologists of all stripes. But if your interest is in history or anthropology, you can find a route in to the National Park Service through that. As an agency, we are sort of a jack of all trades.

You do need to have a certain comfort level with the outdoors and basically willingness to have some adventure.

The joke is that we get paid in sunsets, and to a certain extent, that is true. A lot of my colleagues and co-workers in the National Park Service get some sort of other fulfillment other than monetary through their jobs. So we enjoy being in these places, and we get some sort of perhaps personal or spiritual satisfaction as well. I would say that’s really important, because you do work in some remote places. Sometimes they are not always the easiest places to work, and some days, you know, the pay isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But you get to sit at the rim of the Grand Canyon, look out at the layers of time spread out before you. You get a pretty warm, fuzzy feeling from that a lot of the time. 

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