A Former National Park Superintendent Replies: The Park Service's Various Disciplines

"I'd be interested in hearing your experiences in supervising and working with the various disciplines within the NPS. Many of them are little known or understood by outsiders, and many are behind the scenes and virtually invisible to the casual visitor."

This is not exactly a question, but it raises some interesting points about the inner workings of the National Park Service.

You are certainly correct that the people who work in a park represent a number of disciplines. Most people tend to think of rangers as being the typical National Park Service employees. But, rangers (including protection and interpretation functions) comprise only about 17 percent of the permanent NPS workforce. The largest group of employees is in the variety of maintenance functions.

At one park I managed I figured that the 100 or so permanent employees were in more than 30 different job classifications. Here are a few in addition to park ranger: curator, fire management officer, administrative technician, laborer, carpenter, plumber, motor vehicle operator, heavy equipment operator, electrician, IT specialist, biologist, botanist, ecologist, environmental protection specialist, planner, landscape architect, visual information specialist, volunteer program manager, purchasing agent, budget analyst, firefighter, and historical architect.

The job titles alone indicate the variety of work and responsibility that encompasses managing a park. Expertise is both in the work and in the knowledge of laws related to the work. A park with a large staff has the ability to drawn on this expertise locally. But, most parks have only a small staff. This is the value of the Regional Office system. The Regional Office provides expertise that parks cannot afford to have on staff. Though parks do share expertise, people in the Regional Offices can look across park lines and help provide guidance, technical knowledge, and funding support. Never, as a superintendent, did I not appreciate having the support of the Regional Office when I needed it.

You are also correct in your point that many of these jobs are not visible to the casual observer. But, all are needed to make a park function and to properly care for the resource and the public. The best parks are the ones where all disciplines share a sense of mission and are committed to team achievement. I used to tell my staff that anything that furthered cooperation and collaboration between park divisions would be encouraged and anything that fostered discord and competition would be discouraged.

One job of a superintendent is to build a team of people that respect and support each other. No profession is more important that another, they each have a role to play. I learned a lot from the skilled people I worked with and I was glad to have people around me who could do things I could not do.

Traveler postscript: If you have a question for Costa Dillon, please add it to this column in the form of a comment. He will select one question and answer it in a December 19 column.

Comments

Thank you for responding to my question.

Rick B, good question and an excellent answer from CJ Dillon. I think he is right on, my most enjoyable years as an NPS employee where those times the top management instilled a team effort.