How to Become a Park Naturalist: Step-by-Step Career Guide
Learn how to become a park naturalist. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a park naturalist.
Do I Want to Be a Park Naturalist?
Park naturalists, largely employed by local, state and national parks, work directly with the public to educate and inform them about the natural surroundings. Addressing visitor needs and providing information, they must be knowledgeable about park history, features and attractions. Park naturalists conduct tours of the grounds and they 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.
A bachelor's degree is generally required for a position in this field. Optional certifications are available. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming a park naturalist.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree*|
|Degree Field||Natural resources and conservation, forestry sciences, wildlife management*|
|Certification||Voluntary; can enhance career prospects**|
|Experience||Entry level with college degree; internship beneficial in providing work experience***|
|Key Skills||Critical-thinking and decision-making skills, ability to work with others, social awareness; communication and reasoning skills*|
Sources: *O NET Online, **National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), ***State Government Job Postings for Park Naturalist (November 2012).
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 often look for candidates with previous experience in the field, so aspiring park naturalists can benefit from volunteering or interning at parks or conservation areas. Such experiences can act not only as a resume builder, but also as an opportunity to develop valuable industry contacts. This background also helps qualify individuals for the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification, which requires 1-5 years of experience, depending on an applicant's education level.
- Get voluntarily certified. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) administers a program that can lead to 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.
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