Park Rangers Outside the Woods: A Q&A with Park Ranger Jason Cangelosi


We often picture park rangers in forested national parks, rescuing hikers or handing out trail maps. And while those are important roles, there are so many others that we rarely hear about. We had a chance to sit down with Jason Cangelosi, the Volunteer Program Manager for the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the diverse world of U.S. park rangers.

Q: Thanks for chatting with us today, Jason. Can you tell us more about what your specific park ranger position entails?

A: I coordinate our volunteer program for the National Mall and provide support for the two other coordinators that work with me – one works with groups and the other with individuals. The program is called VIP, which stands for “Volunteers in Parks,” and it’s extensive: last year, we managed around 5,800 group volunteers, plus 300 more in interpretative roles. Volunteers serve in a number of different roles, from offering history lessons at the monuments to pulling weeds and painting park benches.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a ranger?

A: My park ranger journey began in college. I completed two years of community college, then took a gap year and enrolled in Americorps NCCC. There, I participated in a lot of environmental projects and was trained as a wildland firefighter. I had originally planned on becoming a teacher but quickly realized I didn’t like being in a classroom, although I still had a passion to educate and instruct. During Americorps I met some environmental educators in the field and got hooked. I went back to school to learn interpretation, and while I was in college, I signed up to do an SCA internship.

Q: Tell us about your experience with the SCA.

A: It was an individual internship where I taught environmental education to sixth graders at Camp Muskingham in Ohio, using outdoor classrooms and interpretive nature hikes. The agency I worked directly for is called Nature’s Classroom, which has several different locations throughout the states.

(Fifth graders during an outdoor education program by Emily Graves.)

Q: How did your work at Americorps and the SCA help you in your career path?

A: Americorps led me to the SCA, which led to me to the federal government, which allowed me to transfer to where I am now. All of those experiences together gave me a smorgasbord of useful skills. During my time with the SCA, I really got into birding, for example. It was a hobby and also something I taught. And just last week I found out that we do a “Birds and Blooms” walk that I can now lead. I never thought I’d be leading a bird walk on the National Mall, but all of my different skill sets run together for me in my job.

Q: What would be the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring rangers?

A: Get into the Park Service early, whether as a seasonal ranger, or in maintenance – anything to get in the federal system. If you can’t get into the federal system right away, get a job with the state parks or something else in the environmental field that will transfer. A mentor is also important, someone who can help navigate the USA Jobs hiring system. Really talk to people in the field you’re interested in, because whatever your niche is, there’s something for you in the national parks – you just have to find out how to get there.

It may also benefit your readers to know that there are many ranger positions beyond what most people think of. There are uniformed positions in education, youth activities, special events, volunteer coordination, permits, facility maintenance, IT and many other opportunities in the NPS.

Q: Why is the National Park Service so important?

A: The NPS is entrusted with some of the nation’s most incredible places, be it the environment or – right now for me – cultural resources. No other agency is given the opportunity to be the steward of so many things that are so critical. International travelers come from all over the world to visit them, because they are places of grandeur. Until you’ve experienced them, you almost can’t even take it in.

NPS: Something for Everyone

From forest restoration to educating students at national monuments, the National Park Service truly offers something for everyone. Want to learn more hints about getting a job with the National Park Service? Check out our guide, 10 Insider Tips and Tricks for Navigating the Federal System.