July is National Parks and Recreation Month. I love to visit our state and national parks, play in the woods and explore! This month, I met a person who gets to do that as part of his job! Paul Terry is a park ranger with the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. He has worked at Raven Rock State Park for four years. Terry learned a great love of the outdoors through scouting. He joined the Cub Scouts in the first grade and stuck with scouting through the Boy Scout ranks and earned his Eagle Scout rank in 2002. Although he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he graduated high school, he knew he didn’t want a job stuck behind a desk indoors all day. As a park ranger, he gets to do lots of work outdoors, and he loves it!
Truman: What does it take to become a ranger?
Terry: As far as education goes, you have to have at least a two-year college degree, but a four-year degree is preferred. I graduated from Ferrum College in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation Management. As far as your personality goes, you need to enjoy being in the outdoors and be good at talking with people. You also need to be willing to accept new challenges and learn new things. As a park ranger, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades.
Truman: When, and why, did you first become interested in this profession?
Terry: I became interested in the job because it fit my criteria of “something where I wouldn’t be stuck behind a desk all the time.” I heard that the caretaker of our church camp was retiring, and they were looking for a replacement. Unfortunately I was just starting college and not in a position to apply. It did lead me to discover the Parks and Recreation Management degree. When I first enrolled in the program at Ferrum College, I was thinking more about being one of these caretakers at some church or scout camp. During my college career I had to complete an internship, which I did with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Rangers at Philpott Lake. I found out during the internship that I really enjoyed the park ranger job and decided to go that route over the summer camp route.
Truman: What do you do every day? Describe a typical day on the job.
Terry: There is no typical day for a park ranger. That is one of the reasons I love the job so much. One day I might be out in the woods with a GPS mapping out rare or invasive species of plants. Another day I might lead a hike with a class of 4th graders, talking about the geology of the park. And then another day I might be searching for a lost or injured person or fighting a wild fire. Park rangers wear a lot of different hats, so any given day we could be doing police work, education and natural resource management, providing first aid to injured visitors, answering general park questions or working on the construction of a new trail, etc. There is always something different going on, and it is very hard to say, “This is what my average or typical day looks like.” Today I am being interviewed for Kidsville News!, and tomorrow — who knows?
Truman: What is the hardest part of your job?
Terry: The hardest part of the job for me is staying organized and keeping up with all the different projects I may be involved with. At a small staffed park like Raven Rock, I am able to be involved in a wide variety of projects and have many responsibilities. I really like being able to contribute to so many different things, but if you don’t stay organized and manage your time well, it can quickly become overwhelming.
Truman: What is the best part of your job?
Terry: The best part of my job is getting to meet and talk to so many different and interesting people. When you have so many people visit the place where you work, you can’t help but meet some interesting people with fascinating stories. A very close second to the best part of my job is when I am explaining something to someone and you see the light bulb go off in his or her head, indicating that he or she now understands. I get a very good feeling when I know I have successfully passed a little bit of my knowledge on to another person.
Truman: What was your favorite subject in school when you were a kid?
Terry: Science. I always have and still do love to learn how and why things work the way they do.
Truman: What’s your favorite wildlife animal?
Terry: Tough choice, but I would probably go with the grey fox (I always loved elephants when I was a kid, but we don’t have those around here under normal circumstances). I don’t get to see them nearly as often as the deer and squirrels that live in the park, so when you do happen to spot one, it’s kind of special. I also just like watching the way they walk and move.
Truman: What advice would you give to kids who are interested in this profession?
Terry: First, never pass up an opportunity to learn something new. Whether you are at school, a museum or a park, reading a book or even just watching an educational program on TV, pick up extra knowledge every chance you get. Second, when you get old enough, try to get a job as a part-time summer worker or volunteer at a park so you can get a true feel for the job. This will help you decide if the job is really for you, and if you do pursue the career, it will give you some experience that will look good on job applications and in interviews.
Truman: Thanks so much for talking to us about your awesome job!