Working at National Parks until Retirement

The friendliest place on the web for anyone with an RV or an interest in RVing!
If you have answers, please help by responding to the unanswered posts.

May2015

Member
Joined
Feb 7, 2013
Posts
16
My husband is considering becoming a park ranger after graduating from college. If he works at one park, then travels to different parks (working at different national parks over the years), does that mess up retirement benefits? His thinking is that since they are federal parks, it will be like being a federal employee no matter where you go. How does that affect 401K benefits? Is it easy to move around? Also, does it mess up health benefits if you move from park to park over the years until retirement? Basically, no matter where my husband works for a national park, does the time still add up as if he worked for one park?
 
My husband is a retired National Park Service ranger. Permanent NPS employees are federal employees and retire just like any other federal employee. They also get health benefits just like other federal employees. Moving from one park to another makes no difference. Seasonal NPS employees do not get retirement benefits. They may be able to buy into federal health plans, I believe this recently changed. Working for the NPS is a great career, you may get to live in some beautiful places, but it's not easy, the pay isn't great, and it's highly competitive.

Hope this helps.
Wendy
 
When a job opens up, a job announcement is published (assuming the park has the money to fill the position). People who are interested apply. Points are awarded for the skills and education the position requires and the person with the highest  number of points is offered the job. I think the hirer can choose from the top 3. Veterans get an extra 5 points, disabled veterans get an extra 10 points. Typically, jobs go to people who score 100 or higher.  Some parks get tons of applications for job openings (the same parks tourists want to visit).

If government jobs were so easy to get, the unemployment rate in the U.S.  would be zero.

Wendy
 
May2015 said:
My husband is considering becoming a park ranger after graduating from college. If he works at one park, then travels to different parks (working at different national parks over the years), does that mess up retirement benefits? His thinking is that since they are federal parks, it will be like being a federal employee no matter where you go. How does that affect 401K benefits? Is it easy to move around? Also, does it mess up health benefits if you move from park to park over the years until retirement? Basically, no matter where my husband works for a national park, does the time still add up as if he worked for one park?
I have spent a lot of time in National Parks in the US and I have a lot of friends who are park rangers so I will try to actually answer some of your questions without getting into the boxing ring.

First off understand the Park Service is always underfunded. Park rangers don't make a lot of money, so your husband better be wanting to be a park ranger because of his love of nature. In general there are lots and lots of applicants for every job opening. Currently park rangers start at around $15 per hour. But the odds of getting an entry level job are slim to none for someone just out of college.

Most park rangers start out by working a few years as a volunteer. That gives you some points so you can try for a paying position. When you do land your first paying position it will usually be at some place you have never heard of. The Park Service has 390 some units of which only 58 are National Parks. So the odds are he will start in a National Monument, National Seashore or National Battlefield type of place.

I remember about 10 years ago talking with a park ranger in Petrified Forest National Park who had a masters and had been volunteering for two years and still had not gotten a paying job. The competition is extremely tough. Once you do get into the park service moving around is not a problem. In fact you are encouraged to move every six months.

Ten years ago I tried to get a volunteer job at the Grand Canyon and I was told only one in ten get accepted. Now that is tough.
 
Park rangers are not 'encouraged' to move every 6 months. Seasonal rangers typically work 4-6 months at a summer park. Some also work 4-6 months at a winter park but ther are fewer parks with a winter peak season and, hence, fewer job positions.

Permanent NPS employees move as frequently as they want or are able to. Some NPS employees stay in the same park for decades. Others move every 2-4 years. It all depends on what jobs are available, how qualified you and the other applicants are.

And as I said earlier, and Tom S said in the previous post, it is highly competitive, especially in the more desirable parks.

I recommend your husband start applying now for summer seasonal jobs, maybe check out the SCA program, volunteer. More experience is better. And if this really is what he wants to do, never give up.

Wendy
 
I too have met some fine Park Rangers - dedicated and underpaid. Perhaps MN is a bit unique. Some parts of Voyageurs National and the surrounding boundary waters area are not places for the inexperienced. These guys have seen everything and have amazing stories. 
 
I stand corrected, offer my apologies, and have removed parts of the discussion that were taken as offensive; No offense was intended.
 
Another problem that exists is the fact that year round jobs are very difficult to obtain. Around May a whole lot of rangers are hired and then laid off in September. Year round jobs are very plumb assignments and only given to the best of the best. And even those people generally must take a few months a year off.
 
Have him enlist in the military and get 2 to 4 years there, hopefully in some type of field that can transfer skills.  The extra vet points are valuable.  What is his degree in?  What part of NPS service is he interested in?  Rangers can move around a bit once in, but as mentioned, very competitive. 

With no budget and all the financial mess we are in, parks are looking at losing some funding.

BTW, for an Interpretive ranger, a degree in biology, history, geology, education goes a long way.
 
There are also NPS jobs in maintenance and clerical that do not require a college degree but do require specific skills. And again, there's a lot of competition for the jobs so the more education, training, experience you have, the better your chances.

And do not underestimate those veteran's points. Assume your husband has everything ajob position requires and scores 100. But there's a vet who has almost everything and scores a 99. But with those 5 extra vet points, he has 104 and he gets the job. And that's the way it should be.

Wendy
 
SeilerBird said:
I also stand corrected Wendy. You are right. I was confusing it with Xanterra, who is one of the Park Service concessionaires.

The concessionaires, like Xanterra, and the cooperating associations, like ENHA, are another way to work and live in the parks. No cute green and grey uniform but usually easier to get into than the Park Service. Of course, you run into the retirement and health insurance issues there and most of these jobs are seasonal.

 
Thank you everyone for your replies. You gave us good news and bad news. The bad news, its going to be difficult to land a job in the competitive economy. The good news, is that my husband is a disabled vet with 6-7 years of military experience when he graduates from school. He is currently thinking of pursuing an Associate's degree in Criminal Justice, mostly because the programs at his community college are so limited. It looks like his first step is volunteering while he is in school.
 
Here's some even better news ... Disabled vets not only get 10 bonus points, they go to the top of the list and cannot be bypassed.

Wendy
 
My husband will be very encouraged to hear that! :) It has been challenging for us since his return from Iraq a few years ago. His military life and disabilities have been obstacles to reliable employment.
 
Back
Top Bottom