Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$43,118 per year
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Park naturalists plan, develop, and conduct programs to teach park visitors about national, state, or local parks. Highlighting historical, natural, and scientific features of natural areas, they take visitors on nature walks, plan camping trips, teach classes on crafts or outdoor skills, and visit local classrooms to teach children and adults about the outdoors. Their goal is to get the public interested in and excited about the natural world.
A big part of the naturalist's job is to research and develop educational programs. They create nature hikes, classroom discussions, illustrated lectures, audio–visual displays, magazine and newspaper articles, and special promotional campaigns to teach the public about aspects of the park and encourage people to visit.
Naturalists are very familiar with the wildlife and vegetation found in the park, which requires vigilance and study. They are involved in conservation programs, and they work to balance protecting the park and encouraging people to visit and enjoy the outdoors. They may assist with the general operation of visitor centers and coordinate the activities of seasonal staff members and interns.
At private agencies naturalists may be required to take part in fundraising activities. They may be involved in applying for grants or appealing to politicians, or sending press releases to the media that will be used to raise money.
Education and Training Requirements
Most park naturalists require a bachelor's degree in forestry, anthropology, wildlife management, environmental science, or a related field. Classes in education are also preferred.
Some employers may accept a combination of some college and two to four years experience in park education. Volunteering or interning at a park or the forest service while in high school and college is very beneficial to getting a job as a naturalist. Experience with organizing and planning special events is also a plus.
Getting the Job
To get a job as a park naturalist, candidates should check with their college job placement office, visit job fairs, and check listings in the newspaper and on the Internet. Because most naturalists are employed by federal, state, and local governments, prospective workers can check the Web sites of their local parks departments for openings.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Park naturalists usually begin by working during the summer. As they gain experience, they move into year-round positions. Naturalists who have leadership skills may transfer to regional naturalists positions, visitor services positions, or park management positions, which may require a master's degree.
There will be few opportunities for park naturalists through 2014, as job growth in the field is predicted to be slower than the average.
Park naturalists work both indoors and outdoors, depending on their duties. They generally work forty-hour workweeks and may work overtime and overnight shifts.
Most naturalists work outdoors a great deal of time, taking visitors on nature walks and doing research for their educational work. When they are outdoors, naturalists are exposed to weather conditions, insects, and animals. They must be in good physical condition and be able to take long walks and even climb hills.
As administrators, naturalists work in comfortable offices. They have a high level of social contact and must interact with the public on a frequent basis.
Earnings and Benefits
The median salary for park naturalists is $43,118 per year. Wages tend to be higher in some states than others, depending on how much money the state or local government puts into their natural resources budget.
Where to Go for More Information
National Parks Conservation Association
1300 19th St. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20036
National Recreation and Parks Association
22377 Belmont Ridge Rd.
Ashburn, VA 20148
Private agencies tend to pay higher wages than federal or state government agencies. However, government positions may offer housing and transportation. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health and dental insurance. Those who are self-employed must provide their own insurance.