State Park Jobs and Career Opportunities - Florida

Interview with a Park Services Specialist

Name: Dorothy L. Harris

Position: Park Services Specialist at Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida

How long have you been with the Florida Park Service and in what capacity?
As I answer this question, it's hard for me to believe that I have been with the Florida Park Service for almost seventeen years! It must be true that time flies when you are having fun. I started as a park volunteer in early 1990 after I had been visiting the park for about six or seven months.

One day I encountered the park's Assistant Park Manager, who encouraged me to volunteer. I enjoyed volunteering so much that I applied for a temporary position (OPS) and a few years later I was hired as a full time Park Ranger. Working as a Park Ranger gave me more valuable experience and a few years ago I promoted into a Park Services Specialist position.

How did you become involved in working as a park ranger and park services specialist?
As I mentioned, I started out as a park visitor and soon became a volunteer. One of the first things I learned as a volunteer was how to use power tools and heavy equipment. That was something that I had never had the opportunity to do before and each new project was just the same. Something new, different and challenging waited for me each week. I was looking forward to my days off from my "real job" so that I could go and do my volunteer work! The park itself was also a huge draw.

After being raised in the mountains, the Florida environment was so intriguing to me. Everything in Florida was new, exciting and unique, as was my position as a Park Ranger. I met people from all over the country, learned so many new things and challenged myself almost daily with all the "on the job" learning the job entails.

During the years I worked as a ranger, I first began helping out, then handling the preparations and logistics of the park's special events. I'm someone who loves to entertain, so planning large scale, elaborate events was right up my alley. In my park, the Park Services Specialist position handles the special events, marketing and public relations of the park. It’s a perfect fit and I enjoy it so much.

Describe a typical day at your job or the primary duties if there is no such thing as a typical day:
Wow. A typical day is not something we often see in the park service. That doesn’t mean that non-typical is negative, conversely it is usually just the opposite. You never know what excitement is waiting for you or what amazing wildlife you might see! My regular job duties include preparing advertising materials for the park's upcoming events, keeping the park’s websites up to date, and handling a wide variety of details related to festivals, concerts and similar park happenings. I also write columns about the park for publication in local and regional newspapers, create interpretive programs, lead nature walks, and guided tram tours. Presenting programs or educational outreaches in our local community is another big portion of my job.

In addition to all this fun stuff, there is always the necessary park maintenance and upkeep. These duties can include greeting visitors in the Ranger Station, registering campers, mowing grass, cleaning bathrooms, painting buildings, picking up litter, finding lost children, and even prescribed burning. This is why working in the Florida Park Service is so enjoyable. It's a different job every day!

How many hours a week do you work?
In our positions, we are limited to a maximum of forty hours per week. This of course doesn't mean that you never work more than forty hours, however any overage is taken as leave time, usually within that same week or the next. This has always been a positive aspect of the job for me. I've always appreciated having that time off to reconnect with family and friends after those rare occasions when you've had to work late or work over your normal time.

It's very beneficial if you have children because they know that you may be working late today, but that you'll be coming home early next week to make up for it.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
Preparing and presenting programs is by far my favorite part of the job. It is so satisfying to spend an hour or two exposing people to the wonders of the park. When I take visitors out and share with them what I see around us, they start to understand the complex and intricate environmental systems we manage. It's almost like you are sharing a wondrous secret and once they know it, they just can't help but spread the news.

What do you find to be the greatest challenges of your job?
Like many other positions, lack of time and resources are often a concern. There's always more that could be done, or a better way to do something, but often financial or time constraints prevent those things from coming to fruition. Not becoming frustrated or apathetic in those times can be a challenge. On a positive note, after all these years, I've become a much more patient, relaxed person. I realize now that it all doesn't have to get done today, this month or sometimes even this year. You learn to think long term as the parks are going to be here forever. It's a good lesson for life.

What kind of training/schooling is required in your position?
In order to apply for a Park Ranger position, you must have a high school diploma or GED, and a year of work experience in public contact. These are just general requirements and each park may have additional skills or knowledge required according to the position being advertised. Even with the modest pay scale, about $2,000 a month, these positions are highly competitive. It seems that everyone wants to be a Park Ranger!

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Interview with a Park Services Specialist Name: Dorothy L. Harris

Position: Park Services Specialist at Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida

How long have you been with the Florida Park Service and in what capacity?
As I answer this question, it's hard for me to believe that I have been with the Florida Park Service for almost seventeen years! It must be true that time flies when you are having fun. I started as a park volunteer in early 1990 after I had been visiting the park for about six or seven months. One day I encountered the park's Assistant Park Manager, who encouraged me to volunteer. I enjoyed volunteering so much that I applied for a temporary position (OPS) and a few years later I was hired as a full time Park Ranger. Working as a Park Ranger gave me more valuable experience and a few years ago I promoted into a Park Services Specialist position.

How did you become involved in working as a park ranger and park services specialist?
As I mentioned, I started out as a park visitor and soon became a volunteer. One of the first things I learned as a volunteer was how to use power tools and heavy equipment. That was something that I had never had the opportunity to do before and each new project was just the same. Something new, different and challenging waited for me each week. I was looking forward to my days off from my "real job" so that I could go and do my volunteer work! The park itself was also a huge draw. After being raised in the mountains, the Florida environment was so intriguing to me. Everything in Florida was new, exciting and unique, as was my position as a Park Ranger. I met people from all over the country, learned so many new things and challenged myself almost daily with all the "on the job" learning the job entails.

During the years I worked as a ranger, I first began helping out, then handling the preparations and logistics of the park's special events. I'm someone who loves to entertain, so planning large scale, elaborate events was right up my alley. In my park, the Park Services Specialist position handles the special events, marketing and public relations of the park. It’s a perfect fit and I enjoy it so much.

Describe a typical day at your job or the primary duties if there is no such thing as a typical day:
Wow. A typical day is not something we often see in the park service. That doesn’t mean that non-typical is negative, conversely it is usually just the opposite. You never know what excitement is waiting for you or what amazing wildlife you might see! My regular job duties include preparing advertising materials for the park's upcoming events, keeping the park’s websites up to date, and handling a wide variety of details related to festivals, concerts and similar park happenings. I also write columns about the park for publication in local and regional newspapers, create interpretive programs, lead nature walks, and guided tram tours. Presenting programs or educational outreaches in our local community is another big portion of my job.

In addition to all this fun stuff, there is always the necessary park maintenance and upkeep. These duties can include greeting visitors in the Ranger Station, registering campers, mowing grass, cleaning bathrooms, painting buildings, picking up litter, finding lost children, and even prescribed burning. This is why working in the Florida Park Service is so enjoyable. It's a different job every day!

How many hours a week do you work?
In our positions, we are limited to a maximum of forty hours per week. This of course doesn't mean that you never work more than forty hours, however any overage is taken as leave time, usually within that same week or the next. This has always been a positive aspect of the job for me. I've always appreciated having that time off to reconnect with family and friends after those rare occasions when you've had to work late or work over your normal time. It's very beneficial if you have children because they know that you may be working late today, but that you'll be coming home early next week to make up for it.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
Preparing and presenting programs is by far my favorite part of the job. It is so satisfying to spend an hour or two exposing people to the wonders of the park. When I take visitors out and share with them what I see around us, they start to understand the complex and intricate environmental systems we manage. It's almost like you are sharing a wondrous secret and once they know it, they just can't help but spread the news.

What do you find to be the greatest challenges of your job?
Like many other positions, lack of time and resources are often a concern. There's always more that could be done, or a better way to do something, but often financial or time constraints prevent those things from coming to fruition. Not becoming frustrated or apathetic in those times can be a challenge. On a positive note, after all these years, I've become a much more patient, relaxed person. I realize now that it all doesn't have to get done today, this month or sometimes even this year. You learn to think long term as the parks are going to be here forever. It's a good lesson for life.

What kind of training/schooling is required in your position?
In order to apply for a Park Ranger position, you must have a high school diploma or GED, and a year of work experience in public contact. These are just general requirements and each park may have additional skills or knowledge required according to the position being advertised. Even with the modest pay scale, about $2,000 a month, these positions are highly competitive. It seems that everyone wants to be a Park Ranger!

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Is there any kind of training or general experience that you wish you had before taking your job?
I actually spent a good amount of time volunteering at the park where I was hired and this helped me immensely. While donating my time and being trained along the way, I also learned what other skills and abilities I would need to be competitive with the large volume of applicants coming in for each opening. I also joined our local volunteer fire department to get fire fighting and radio experience. I took classes through the state Division of Forestry to be certified in prescribed burning, and learned CPR, first aid, and became a certified first responder.

All these things, along with my volunteer work helped prepare me for a Park Ranger position. I would encourage anyone seriously interested in a position with the Florida Park Service to spend time at the park or location they would be interested in working at so that they can see what it really entails. Each park is so different and so the job duties vary accordingly. Once you are hired, you attend Ranger Academy for two weeks and you complete interpretive training. Most employees also become certified prescribed burners. All other training is mostly "on the job" or scheduled according to the park's needs, activities, or management concerns.

What are a few of the projects that you've been working on recently that have been the most interesting?
During the past year or so, I have been learning about birding and leading birding hikes. This is a really popular activity in our parks and we want to be able to offer this to our visitors here at the Hammock.

It's wonderful to have a whole new realm of nature to master and learn right along with our visitors. This keeps the job fresh and fun. I've also had the opportunity to take environmental education programs into nearby correctional facilities for teen girls, which was incredibly satisfying. Their interest level and enthusiasm for the Florida environment was encouraging, considering their situations and future challenges.

We are also gearing up for our winter concert series and annual festival, which is always a very busy, fun time. On a scientific note, I have an ongoing seed collection project that focuses on preserving several endangered bromeliads in the park. It's always great to get news about our several thousand seedlings growing under quarantine in this statewide program to prevent extinction of these unique plants.

If someone were interested in working as a park ranger/park services specialist, what advice could you give them?
Of course I would suggest volunteering since people are sometimes surprised about how variable our jobs can be! If you volunteer in a park, you'll be able to get a good idea of what your typical work day might be like once you get hired. You'll also be able to know what positions will be opening and when.

Park staff can help you identify what skills you might be lacking and can also help you consider positions in other parks. It's a perfect way to "try on" a new career.

It's also a good way to gain experience for later on, in the event that you may want to do this as a second career after retirement. I also want to mention that the opportunities are limitless in the Florida Park Service. After working as a Park Ranger or Park Services Specialist, you might decide to move into park management or perhaps even a biology-related position. Open positions are advertised on , the state’s online human resources agency. Take a look sometime and see what’s available. You just might find a great career here in "the REAL Florida!"

Interview with a Park Services Specialist (continued) Is there any kind of training or general experience that you wish you had before taking your job?
I actually spent a good amount of time volunteering at the park where I was hired and this helped me immensely. While donating my time and being trained along the way, I also learned what other skills and abilities I would need to be competitive with the large volume of applicants coming in for each opening. I also joined our local volunteer fire department to get fire fighting and radio experience. I took classes through the state Division of Forestry to be certified in prescribed burning, and learned CPR, first aid, and became a certified first responder.

All these things, along with my volunteer work helped prepare me for a Park Ranger position. I would encourage anyone seriously interested in a position with the Florida Park Service to spend time at the park or location they would be interested in working at so that they can see what it really entails. Each park is so different and so the job duties vary accordingly. Once you are hired, you attend Ranger Academy for two weeks and you complete interpretive training. Most employees also become certified prescribed burners. All other training is mostly "on the job" or scheduled according to the park's needs, activities, or management concerns.

What are a few of the projects that you've been working on recently that have been the most interesting?
During the past year or so, I have been learning about birding and leading birding hikes. This is a really popular activity in our parks and we want to be able to offer this to our visitors here at the Hammock. It's wonderful to have a whole new realm of nature to master and learn right along with our visitors. This keeps the job fresh and fun. I've also had the opportunity to take environmental education programs into nearby correctional facilities for teen girls, which was incredibly satisfying. Their interest level and enthusiasm for the Florida environment was encouraging, considering their situations and future challenges.

We are also gearing up for our winter concert series and annual festival, which is always a very busy, fun time. On a scientific note, I have an ongoing seed collection project that focuses on preserving several endangered bromeliads in the park. It's always great to get news about our several thousand seedlings growing under quarantine in this statewide program to prevent extinction of these unique plants.

If someone were interested in working as a park ranger/park services specialist, what advice could you give them?
Of course I would suggest volunteering since people are sometimes surprised about how variable our jobs can be! If you volunteer in a park, you'll be able to get a good idea of what your typical work day might be like once you get hired. You'll also be able to know what positions will be opening and when. Park staff can help you identify what skills you might be lacking and can also help you consider positions in other parks. It's a perfect way to "try on" a new career.

It's also a good way to gain experience for later on, in the event that you may want to do this as a second career after retirement. I also want to mention that the opportunities are limitless in the Florida Park Service. After working as a Park Ranger or Park Services Specialist, you might decide to move into park management or perhaps even a biology-related position. Open positions are advertised on , the state’s online human resources agency. Take a look sometime and see what’s available. You just might find a great career here in "the REAL Florida!"