Learn about the National Park Service and its wide variety of rangers, and volunteers who help protect, maintain, and care for the park and the millions of people who visit each year.
About the National Park Service in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is overseen by the National Park Service (NPS), a branch of the United States Department of the Interior. They are charged with fulfilling a very challenging two-fold mission that pulls them in two opposite directions. The NPS mission is “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Preserving the park while making it available to the public is the very difficult balancing act they have to perform with every decision they make.
The National Park Service at Rocky Mountain National Park has five important divisions:
- Administrative (human resources, budget, payroll, technology, etc.)
- Facility Management (roads, trails, buildings, utilities, etc.)
- Interpretation and Education (visitor center operations, exhibits, publications, educational programs, etc.)
- Resource Stewardship (research on physical, biological, and cultural resources)
- Resource Protection & Visitor Management (law enforcement, medical, rescue, wilderness camping, etc.)
You’ll often find rangers from the Interpretation and Education division working at the visitor centers, trailheads, pull-overs, and historic sites. They are tasked with helping us better understand and connect with the park, its history, and the natural world.
On the trails you might encounter all sorts of rangers. Sometimes they are from the Wilderness Office checking on wilderness campsites. They might be climbing rangers between rescue assignments, or trail crews repairing a section of trail, or researchers working on one of the many ongoing studies such as monitoring nitrogen levels in the park or the well-being of an endangered animal. If you are driving too fast through the park, avoiding the permit system, or smuggling out elk antlers, you might get to know the law enforcement rangers. There are also those who work with the facilities management who have the hard task of cleaning up our mess as they maintain the many park toilets, trash cans, signage, roads, bridges, etc.
As well as park staff, Rocky also depends heavily on its many volunteers. With millions of visitors coming to the park each year there is a lot to do. Volunteers help with everything from working at the visitor centers and trailheads, to being campground hosts, part of the Bugle Corps educating about the elk, weed collection, assisting with scientific studies, and so much more. Each year, thousands of people volunteer in some way to help at Rocky Mountain National Park. Simply running the volunteer program is a big job, but much of the work would never get done without all of these people who selflessly give of themselves to help care for Rocky.
The staff at Rocky Mountain National Park are passionate about preserving our wild lands. They have had to jump through a lot of hoops and meet a host of requirements to become a full-time park employee. Most of those who serve with the park service have advanced degrees and have given years of volunteer service within the NPS before being hired. They are asked to do more and more each year as visitation grows, but with fewer and fewer resources. It often looks like a very thankless and stressful job, but I know that many find satisfaction in knowing that their work is helping to preserve one of our nation's most special places.
If you encounter a ranger or volunteer on your visit, be sure and show your appreciation for the hard self-sacrificial work they are doing. We wouldn't have our national parks without them.