While training more recruits, the N.P.S. is also trying to get more black and Latino rangers.
Six out of ten National Park Service Rangers who work in parks throughout the Northeast Region are eligible to retire in the next five years. The N.P.S. is running a one of a kind pilot project at Temple University to train a young, diverse group of Park Rangers.
Lytia Solomon is one of thirteen students in the ProRanger program.
“I feel proud when I put on the uniform! My uniform is green and gray. I have on boots – shined boots – or I attempted to shine ’em! And I have my Stetson hat on. My Stetson’s belt it has pinecones…”
On a recent cool August day the group gathered at Valley Forge National Historical Park to talk about their experiences so far.
Solomon grew up in Mt. Airy and says she never expected she’d train to become a Park Ranger.
“I was very interested in criminal justice and law enforcement. I like reading cases, investigating, and you know when I found out about this program I said to myself, ‘Wow. Park Rangers do all this!’ Not only do they enforce the law, they do policing and they also do investigation, and search and rescue.”
Solomon says she learned a lot more at her summer internship at Fort McHenry in Maryland.
“I never knew what a weed whacker was. I learned a lot of stuff about how to distinguish different kinds of trees and flowers and plants, how to prune.”
Still, Solomon says she’s so used to tall buildings and street lights, she thinks she’d like to work at a park in an urban setting.
The N.P.S. hopes more young people will learn about job opportunities in cities says Jill Hawk, the Regional Chief Ranger for the Northeast Region.
“At Independence National Historical Park for example, they walk everywhere…You have a lot of afterhours visitation. There are a lot of bars in the area, you have a significant homeless population in that area, so they have to have different skills that maybe Rangers in Acadia or Shehnandoah may not deal with on a day-today basis.”
Hawk says it’s important to attract a diverse group of future Rangers.
“We have a workforce that’s almost 80% caucasian and being in the Northeast it’s obvious that’s not reflected of the communities that we serve. When people come to National Parks they expect to see the face of America there. And if they don’t, maybe they don’t feel like it’s really their park.”
The first graduates could be on the job as Rangers within two years.