So You Want To Be A National Park Ranger

So You Want To Be A National Park Ranger

Most young adults have no idea how one becomes a national park service ranger.  
The Big Island of Hawaiʻi is home to four national park sites including massive Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (HVNP). Despite this density of parks in the island community, most island teens grow up unsure how to begin national parks careers. The National Park Service structure can look intimidating from the outside and the processes for hiring seem complex, with layers and levels and different statuses, permanent and seasonal positions, terms of one or four years. Getting to that uniform seems hard and confusing. Most teens turn to simpler jobs and forget about the park service. That youthful energy and idealism becomes directed elsewhere. 

In 2010 HVNP Ranger Kupono McDaniel launched an “earn-while-you-learn” Hawaiʻi Island Youth Internship Ranger Program to engage “youth from our local Hawai'i Island communities to care for their national parks, while learning critical life skills and earning a decent wage.” The National Park Service is looking at ways to engage youth and, McDaniel says, “hiring locally helps the parks reflect the faces we see in our communities.” The program is funded through multiple partners (including HPPA) to support what comes from Washington budgets. "We struggle every year," says McDaniel, "but we help the community and help our national parks by growing citizens who care about our natural and cultural resources and understand the value of working in a career with benefits."   

Once applicants are chosen, the parks in this program sit participants down for eight weeks of intensive training. After training, interns are brought into the parks with many of the same responsibilities as entry-level rangers. They gain experience in the management of invasive species, engage hundreds of thousands of visitors, restore historic trails and buildings, and keep visitors safe. They work side by side with NPS professionals, receiving a crash course in professional behavior and personal growth. 

Ranger McDaniel adds, “This program grows the youth as well as helping the park service engage thousands of visitors, clear acres of invasive species, maintain our buildings and trails and build a bridge to our community.” At this point over 500 youths have been through the training and over 300 have been hired to work in national parks. Some are well into their permanent careers now and continuing to serve our local environment.   

“This is so important to the development of young people,” he continues. “I had no idea that people got paid to take care of parks when I was young, my model was 40 hours of drudgery to enjoy the weekend with family. When I realized what a career doing something you care about is possible I wanted every youth to know it.” The program can provide a job with benefits, mentorship and an opportunity to do something to help our local environment and culture that they are proud of.  

The capstone of the program each year is a celebration of the youth participants, their mentors, and the work they accomplish over the summer season. Five former Youth Rangers are in permanent positions at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park while others are moving toward their NPS careers in ongoing college employment and internship positions. 

Any students interested in the program should contact Ranger McDaniel. Students must be able to attend after school training at Kaʻu, Keaʻau, or Kealakehe High School on Hawaiʻi Island.
Call: Kūpono McDaniel, Youth and Volunteer Programs Coordinator, 808-985-6015.

More volunteer, intern, and job opportunities are here:

HPPA support for youth in parks is here:




Hawaii Pacific Parks Association Location Map

Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association. P.O. Box 74 Hawaii National Park, 96718 HI