I want that job! Karen Henker is an interpretive park ranger. She helps visitors explore America's national parks.
WHAT DOES AN INTERPRETIVE PARK RANGER DO?
An interpretive park ranger talks to the public about the park and helps people understand why it's special and how they can help take care of it. I work at the visitor's center, and I present programs and conduct guided walks explaining the plants, animals, geology, and history of the park.
WHAT PARKS HAVE YOU WORKED AT?
I started as a volunteer at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, working in their museum. From there, I held seasonal positions at Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, taking kids on swamp hikes, and Wind Cave National Park in California, taking people 91 meters (300 feet) underground. Now I'm a full-time ranger at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
WHAT DID YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I enjoy helping people learn about the natural world. For example, campers visiting Canyonlands may be surprised to discover that the same desert springs they drink from today were used by Native Americans thousands of years ago.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO ANSWER VISITORS' QUESTIONS?
It depends on the question. To answer questions about the role an organism plays in its habitat, it helps to have a basic understanding of ecology, or how the natural world works together.
WHAT'S THE COOLEST THING ABOUT THE PARK WHERE YOU WORK?
One of the incredible things at Canyonlands is the amount of geologic time you can come face-to-face with in the rock layers. It's mind-bending.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME AN INTERPRETIVE PARK RANGER?
Getting a permanent job as a park ranger is very competitive. The best way to get started is to volunteer, like I did. It also helps to have a college degree. More and more universities are offering majors in natural-resource and park management and even in my field of interpretation.
HOW MUCH MONEY DO INTERPRETIVE PARK RANGERS EARN?
Salary varies depending on where a park is located. Full-time rangers start off making roughly $20,000 a year.
Watch videos of Karen Henker explaining the natural history of Canyonlands National Park at: www.nps.gov/cany/photosmultimedia/insidecanyonlands.htm