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Outdoor Industry Careers: Park Manager

Outdoor Industry Careers: Park Manager

Mohican State Park in north-central Ohio is one of the Buckeye State’s premier outdoor playgrounds. Encompassing some 1,100 acres—mostly woodlands—the park also contains the Clear Fork Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. Managing the park is Josh Gardner, a 16-year veteran of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Watercraft.

“Not only does Mohican have a beautiful lodge, with all the amenities, overlooking Pleasant Hill Lake,” said Gardner, “the park also has 25 rental cabins, and camping is very popular, as well. As for recreation, the park provides tubing, canoeing and kayaking opportunities on the Clear Fork River, hiking trails, mountain-bike trails, horseback-riding trails, fishing and picnicking spots. There are also plenty of places at Mohican to just kick back and relax along the river’s shoreline or deep within the forest.”

How did you begin your outdoors career?

“I grew up in the country, and my grandmother, who lived nearby, owned a farm. I spent a lot of time fishing in her pond or hiking in the woods. In fact, hiking is still my favorite outdoor activity. After high school I attended Asbury College in Kentucky, earning a four-year degree in parks and recreation management with a minor in business management. During the summers while attending college I worked at a state park near my home. I was first assigned to the campground check-in station, working the 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. shift—a shift no one else wanted. But despite the bad hours I loved it, and that’s when I decided I wanted to work in parks as a career and someday possibly become a park manager.”

Did you have a mentor in your early years, someone who inspired you to choose the career you did?

“Yes, I’d have to say that I did. It was my uncle who was a park ranger and manager at a state park in southern Ohio. I didn’t see him much as a kid—but when I did, the stories he told about his job always fascinated me and eventually piqued my interest concerning a possible career. I’d have to say I’ve followed in his footsteps.”

How would you suggest a young person prepare for a job as a park manager?

“In addition to formal education, including both high school and college, I would suggest a young person begin by finding a summer job at a park to gain work experience and begin building a work résumé. Volunteering and internships are good ways to acquire work experience, too. I believe there is great value in learning a job from the ground up. For instance, no one wants to clean restrooms, but I did that at a state park for two summers while I was going to college. And as a park manager, I now know how important a job like that can be; the number one complaint received by most park managers concerns dirty restrooms. That kind of menial work is not fun or glamorous, but it needs done and done well. So don’t be afraid to work hard and get your hands dirty when first starting out; your supervisors will take notice.”   

What do you enjoy about your job?

“Working as a park manager is rewarding for me for two reasons: I enjoy working with people, and I get to protect and enhance Ohio’s natural resources. It’s a balance between wise use and protection. For instance, the Clear Fork Gorge here in the park has been around for thousands of years and protecting it for future generations is part of my job. But so is allowing people to use the gorge wisely. Being the best caretaker I can, and leaving a natural resource better than I found it is what I enjoy. It’s what brings me to work each day.”

Describe a typical day on the job.

“When I arrive at my office, the first thing I do is check and respond to my e-mail and phone messages. I then spend an hour or so doing paperwork. It’s then time to get out into the park, meeting with members of each of our departments: maintenance crew, campground crew, cleaning crew, swimming-pool lifeguards and park rangers. I like to keep in touch on a daily basis, to see what each group is working on and if they are having any problems.

“In addition, there are always issues that crop up or minor emergencies that need attended to on an almost daily basis. No two days are ever exactly the same and I like that. I enjoy the variety of activities my job requires and that I’m not stuck behind a desk eight hours a day. I’ll even work in the campground store from time to time for a few hours just to stay in touch with both my staff and the public. During the winter, our slow season here in Ohio, is when we tackle the larger maintenance issues in the park, making repairs and improvements.”

What are a few of the challenges of your job?

“Keeping track of the park’s operational and personnel budget is huge in my job. I also have to make sure that employees are following proper purchasing policies and procedures. Scheduling work hours for nearly 40 people can also be time consuming and difficult at times. And having been a park ranger before I was a manager, I’m still a commissioned law enforcement officer; so if I’m the only officer in the park at the time a complaint comes in, I handle it. I’m also on call 24 hours per day, seven days a week. I actually work more hours now than I did as a park ranger, but I have more control over my schedule. Peak demand at the park is on holidays and weekends, so I’m usually working when other people are having fun. That said, as a father of three kids it helps to have an understanding spouse.”

What does the job future look like for park managers and other types of park employees?

“The work in a park is never done, so as long as there are parks there will always be a need for park employees,” Gardner concluded. “You won’t get rich, but if you enjoy the outdoors and working with people, this particular ‘Cool Job’ just might be for you.”

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