Park service employees hold a wide variety of positions and expertise. From law enforcement, to resource management, to administration, to maintenance, to interpretation, everyone has an important role to make the park function. We’ve interviewed Pam Barnes, one of the Education Specialist rangers who works here at the CVEEC, about her job here in the park.
Pam, when did you first realize you wanted to be a park ranger?
I’ve always had a great interest in the outdoors. I had a storybook-like childhood filled with memories of my brother and me playing in the stream at my Grandpa’s farm. We used our imaginations, made mud pies, and just explored; typical kid stuff, but usually with an outdoor focus.
But, really, my first exposure to a park career happened when I was a teenager, maybe 15 years old. I went on a trip to visit national parks and met several rangers that had pretty cool jobs. At the time, I had no idea how to pursue that career, so I just logged it in the back of my memory.
In high school, I was part of the eco-meet team, similar to envirothon here in Ohio. It was a competition that required us to memorize species names, execute orienteering skills, and identify reptiles and amphibians, among other similar tasks. Through this club, I realized other kids shared my interests; we even started a school newspaper with an environmental theme.
As far as taking formal steps toward environmental career, I really credit my high school guidance counselor. She encouraged me to seek a degree in environmental education in college. I had always considered teaching as a possible career, and guess I never had realized that you could teach environmental education specifically. It seemed like a perfect fit for me.
When I graduated, and it was time to apply for jobs, I still didn’t know exactly what my career was going to be. Then, one day, my husband reminded me of my trip to the parks, and how I had once considered becoming a park ranger. He actually printed out the application for me and encouraged me to fill it out. I’m really glad he did.
What parks have you worked in since becoming a park ranger?
I started out in Hopewell Culture National Historic Park in southern Ohio. Most park rangers start out in the smaller, lesser known, parks. I worked 3 seasons there before I applied to Cuyahoga Valley. After 2 more seasonal positions here, a permanent job opened up, and I got it! I’ve been here ever since. I’ve worked at the EEC since 1991, so I guess that means 22 years.
What are the best and the worst parts of your job?
Tough question, I guess I love that every day here is different. There really is no “typical day.” And, I think not everyone can say they are working in a job that they truly love. Every job has its downsides; here (besides furlough) I would say it’s the paperwork, and the other tasks that are necessary, but not truly what the job is all about. The best parts are working with students, working with teachers, and just being outside in park.
For those students out there aspiring to become park rangers, do you have any advice?
Well, this sounds cliché, but stay in school. It always helps to have a college degree. The cool thing about the park service is they employ a wide variety of skill sets; you can apply science, history, political science, architecture, and engineering to different park jobs. Science is especially applicable since we do wildlife monitoring and other surveys. Collecting data is something we do on a regular basis.
Around the office, you are known for your puns and jokes. Do you have any for us today?
What did the beaver say to the tree?
It’s been nice gnawing you.
How do you identify a dogwood tree?
By its bark.
What do you like to do when you aren’t on the job?
We always joke that when park rangers go on vacation, they go visit other national parks. That’s true for me too. I’ve been to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Petrified Forest, Acadia, Everglades, and probably some others. I still need to visit Yosemite though; I’ll get there someday.
Thank you so much, do you have any final thoughts?
Just that in the end, it’s amazing to find a job that perfectly fits your interests. I love kids, and I love passing along my favorite childhood pastimes to the next generation of kids. I always wanted a job teaching and I wanted to wear the uniform; as a park ranger I get to do both.
Missed our interview with Ranger Phil Molnar? Check it out here!