How I Turned My Love of the Outdoors Into a Job

by | Stories

I feel like everyone has that one park that makes them feel something special; the one place that stands out above all the rest, and that brings out passion and emotions more than anywhere else. For me, that place is Yosemite National Park. When people ask me what national park is my favorite, I have a hard time answering, because I love all of the parks for different reasons and I hate discounting any of them. But there is something about Yosemite that can bring tears to my eyes and a stirring in my heart unlike anywhere else in the world (that I’ve seen so far). Literally, every time I enter the park and get that postcard worthy view at Tunnel View, I get teary eyed. It is the most beautiful, awe inspiring place that I have ever visited. It was this stirring, this passion that I felt after the first time I visited, that pushed me to pursue a career with the National Park Service (NPS).

After my first visit to the Sierra Nevada, I went back to my home at the time in the Florida Keys, and immediately got online looking for jobs. I knew I had to go back, and I knew that I had to work and live there. My mind and life were completely saturated with the thought of returning. As with most federal jobs, the application process for NPS is extremely long, exhausting, and filled with lots of bureaucratic red tape. I needed to get my foot in the door, and with any luck, that would be in Yosemite. However, the chances of that seemed pretty slim (my dream park on my first shot?), so I applied to over 40 positions with the NPS at parks all over the country. I only found one posting for Yosemite, and added that to my growing list. Jobs for seasonal, summer positions are typically posted around November, with the summer season generally lasting April – October, depending on the park. I spent the entire months of November and December relentlessly applying for every single job that popped up that I was even remotely qualified for.
And then? …NOTHING. I heard nothing for months. I figured it was all a bust, and I would need to start volunteering or get involved with local parks to build some bridges. Instead, I planned on spending the summer thru hiking the John Muir Trail, a 210 mile long trail through the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada mountains (more on this gem later!) That’s how I would get my fix of this wondrous place. Permits for this trail have also become quite the hot commodity in recent years, but I was lucky enough to score one on my first attempt (again, more on this in a later blog.) I splurged and started outfitting myself with the best gear, started training the best that I could living in the Florida Keys, and spent every free moment that I had meal planning, creating an itinerary, and dreaming of those mountains that captured my heart. Then, the following March, I got a phone call from a number with a 209 area code. I thought, “Hey! That’s the area code in Yosemite… OMG THAT’S THE AREA CODE IN YOSEMITE!”

The call was from my soon to be supervisor, yes, in Yosemite National Park. Of all the 40+ jobs that I applied for, my dream job was the one my resume was finally filtered to (thanks, computer!). We talked briefly about the job, and my experience, and boom! At the end of the call she offered me a position working in the park for the summer! Long story short, my JMT plans were put on hold, and thus started my and Dara’s fascination with cross country road trips.
I spent that first summer working as a park ranger, falling even more in love with this amazing park, and building some of the best friendships in my life. When it was time to go home at the end of the summer, I left Yosemite with a full heart, amazing experiences, and the feeling as if I had “completed” a goal. I wasn’t sure if I would return the following year, but kept an open mind. I’ve since returned every summer, and am convinced my heart truly belongs in this incredible place that I’m lucky enough to consider home for half of each year.

Marc Anthony said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” When I put those green and greys on, and that stereotypical ranger flat hat, I am moved and motivated to share my passion for our wild places with everyone that I can. Working as a ranger in Yosemite has brought true joy and fulfillment to my life. This is a feeling that I believe everyone deserves to experience, and I want to encourage others who love the outdoors to pursue a career that surrounds you with nature. Here are a few steps to send you in the right direction!

Get some resume quality experience


Many of us are self taught outdoorsmen/women, and grew up learning the ways of nature, how to camp, fish, hike, etc. However, this is something difficult to translate onto a resume. A great way to get that resume quality experience is to get involved with organizations specializing in just that. Personally, I spent a summer working for the Student Conservation Association doing trail work in Daniel Boone National Forest. Many of such positions are also part of AmeriCorps, which is a huge plus to add to your resume, especially for federal jobs. There are organizations like this all over the country, and many are geared towards students and new grads.
Student Conservation Association

Get the application timing correct

Many outdoor jobs are seasonal, based on the location. Like I mentioned with federal jobs, summer positions are typically posted almost 6-7 months in advance. This is generally a good time to start investing some time into job searching and making sure all of your materials are updated (resume, cover letter, etc). Check online on a daily basis to make sure you don’t miss short application windows.

Market yourself!

Make connections and build bridges! You’ll find the outdoor industry actually a pretty small world, and word of mouth can make or break you. Get involved locally while you wait for a desired position, and make a name for yourself. This is a great way to get experience and also nab some good references!

Be patient

Because months went by before I eventually heard from NPS, I assumed I didn’t make the cut and in turn made other big plans. The process can be very long, but don’t assume you didn’t get the job just because you haven’t heard anything. If it’s a smaller, local company, it never hurts to send a professional email (just one!) inquiring about how the process is moving along. As far as federal jobs, no email is going to get you much, but until you hear “NO,” you’re still in the running.

Nail the interview

This goes for any job. Once you get that ticket and nab an interview, prepare to wow your interviewer. The older I get, the more I find that truly just being myself (cliché right?) is what grabs positions or promotions. If you are comfortable in your skill set and passionate about the work, you’ll shine!

Remember, it is feasible!

Many people ask me how I manage to do what I do, and live the life that I live. The fact of the matter is, I make it a priority! I’ve never been one to sit by idly in a job that I didn’t love, and I’ve always prioritized doing what I am passionate about (just ask me about the jobs I’ve held in the last 11 years…). There are plenty of us doing it!

So get your passionate selves out there and make a life surrounded by something that makes you FEEL! And if you’re inspired to pursue a career with the National Park Service, or any other federal agency, head on over to the USA Jobs site and start putting yourself out there!