Joshua Sweet

SCA 2009 Tonto National Monument

Park Ranger | Bayfield, WI

In 2009, while studying Parks, Rec & Tourism at Arizona State University, Joshua Sweet interned at nearby Tonto National Monument, providing interpretive and educational services for visiting youth groups.  Just five years later, he’s already held nearly a dozen seasonal ranger jobs and visited more than 100 national parks.  We asked him to summarize his journey to date and he sent back an essay titled “The Scenic Route.” 

The Scenic Route

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

These words, once written by the wise John Muir, help to describe how I feel about the work I do each year in parks across our country. The Student Conservation Association provided me with a vessel that has allowed me to travel and work in some of the most stunning places on earth. My internship introduced me to a world of purpose and journey while also helping me to choose a rewarding career path. SCA established the gateway to what I like to call, the scenic route.

Trying to enter the real world and get a job can be frightening. Like my classmates, I had little idea of where to turn when my degree program was coming to an end. Sometime during my senior year of college I remember a representative from SCA coming to speak to our student group. A strong connection to the environment has always been a key aspect of my life and I knew then, this was something that I wanted to be a part of.

In 2009, my experience with SCA at Tonto National Monument included responsibilities related to interpretation, visitor services, and backcountry maintenance. Soon after beginning my internship I realized traveling the country in search of fulfilling work near spectacular scenery would become my greatest aspiration. To become a more qualified candidate for the post-internship positions I was seeking, I used my AmeriCorps Education Award to become a Wilderness First Responder and Leave No Trace Master Educator.

I have now worked in parks in eleven different states including Denali, Yellowstone, the Adirondacks, the Minnesota North Woods, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Travelling remains my primary interest today as I have visited over one hundred National Parks spanning 43 states. Currently I work as an interpretive park ranger at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore along the frigid waters of Lake Superior.

Speaking from experience, there is a great deal of advice I would offer others interested in a job at a National Park or similar organization. First and foremost, cast a wide net and be willing to travel. The best part of the job may be that it is not in your backyard. Volunteer at a park in your spare time. Even a few hours each week can be enough to put your name on the regional radar. Be flexible with the occupation level. Most employees start near the bottom of the totem pole and work their way upwards. Lastly, use your SCA internship to your advantage. Network, take on special projects, and don’t downplay your experience in your resume or on an application.

Without the Student Conservation Association, my journey would not have become a reality. I sincerely hope that many others will find their own journey through SCA. Because had it not been for this invaluable experience I would have never known what it was like to travel down my very own scenic route.

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