Should I Become a Park Naturalist?
Park naturalists work directly with the public to educate individuals about the environment. They must be knowledgeable about park history, features, and attractions in order to address visitor needs and provide information. Park naturalists conduct tours of the grounds and serve as protectors of government property. Working in all types of weather conditions is required, and naturalists may sometimes have to deal with demanding or difficult park visitors. Park naturalists have a full-time workweek during typical business hours.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Fields||Natural resources and conservation, forestry sciences, wildlife management|
|Certification||Voluntary; can enhance career prospects|
|Experience||No formal experience required; entry level with college degree; internship beneficial in providing work experience|
|Key Skills||Critical-thinking and decision-making skills, ability to work well with others, social awareness; communication and reasoning skills|
|Salary||$60,220 (2015 median)|
Sources: O NET Online, National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), State Government Job Postings for Park Naturalist (November 2012), *Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2015)
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Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree
Holding a bachelor's degree in such a major as environmental or biological sciences, forestry, wildlife management, or natural resources is usually required of park naturalists. A large part of this job involves publicly interacting with people, so coursework in communications and public speaking would be beneficial. Coursework within an undergraduate program may include parks administration and planning programs, recreation and tourism, and leadership skills.
Complete an Internship or Apprenticeship
Employers prefer candidates with previous experience in the field, so aspiring park naturalists can benefit from volunteering or interning at parks or conservation areas. These experiences will also aid in developing valuable industry contacts. Additionally, an internship or apprenticeship helps qualify individuals for the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification, which requires one to five years of experience, depending on the applicant's education level.
Get Voluntarily Certified
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) offers a program for voluntary certification as a Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP). Being certified as a CPRP demonstrates to potential employers that the professional has the education, expertise, and experience to work in the industry. While it's not mandatory, it's not uncommon for parks and recreation agencies to look for applicants who are certified. Eligibility requirements are based on several factors, including a combination of education and work experience.
Step 2: Apply for a Position
Park naturalists most commonly work for government-affiliated parks and recreation offices, so being interested in nature can serve as a stepping-stone to this career path. From participating in outdoor recreation and hiking to observing nature and wildlife, many park naturalists have a strong desire to work in the industry. Individuals with a background in activism or an interest in preserving the environment might also find working as a park naturalist to be a fulfilling career. Job opportunities vary by region and by funds allotted to aiding parks and recreation programs and facilities.
Step 3: Advance within the Field
Once an individual becomes a park naturalist, they may advance within the field and further their career by taking on a management position. Often times, there will be opportunities to conduct research and help to further scientific knowledge about the environment. Many park naturalists eventually move their work indoors to work as a supervisor and aid others in improving policy.
Park naturalists must have a bachelor's degree in forest sciences, natural resources and conservation or wildlife management and can obtain voluntary certification to make themselves more marketable. It is important for park naturalists to have good communication and reasoning skills and, most importantly, a love of nature.