How to Get a Seasonal Job in a National Park

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Chelsea O’Brien-Ducharme of Salisbury, Md., had never been to Yellowstone National Park before arriving for a seasonal job as a housekeeper in the fall of 2019. Her jaw dropped at the scenery of the park, which covers 2.2 million acres in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“After so long living on the East Coast, where the land is quite flat, it was surreal,” said O’Brien-Ducharme, 27, who worked for three months at Grant Village in Yellowstone. “It’s like being in a Discovery documentary, and I would forget that I live and work here.”

Parks need seasonal workers, especially for the busy summer, which offers nature lovers the opportunity to immerse themselves inexpensively in beautiful surroundings and earn a little extra cash. Although the jobs are popular, there are still a few openings this year. Widespread labor shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic have also hit national parks, creating a market of job seekers.

“Salaries have gone up a lot for these entry-level positions, and there are more incentives than before,” said Kelcy Fowler, president of CoolWorks, a website that lists jobs in national parks and other places. interesting. Entry-level jobs typically pay $13 per hour for a housekeeper to $16 per hour for a janitor. Housing costs range from $20 to $125 per week. There are also bonuses for end of season work, travel and referrals. “Employers these days are giving banana offers…to do whatever they can to be as competitive as they need to be to pique the interest of the job seeker who right now has this which seems to be all the options available to him,” Fowler said.

Traditionally, students and retirees have held many seasonal jobs, but people in these age brackets are increasingly filling these positions. “That has changed dramatically” over the past few years, Fowler said, adding that more and more professionals are opting for these experiences. Fowler attributes this to people reassessing their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, as well as the popularity of “van life,” where people trade in their homes for a four-wheeled existence.

Latecomer to the #vanlife party takes a 4,000 mile road trip in a pop-up motorhome

If perks like taking spectacular after-hours hikes and spotting wildlife on your commute intrigue you, here’s what you need to know to find (and work) a seasonal job at an American treasure trove.

Parks rely on multiple employers

The National Park Service hires about 7,500 federal summer employees. Common seasonal positions include park rangers, trail workers, visitor services assistants, and maintenance workers. It also offers internships through nonprofit partners, youth programs, and the Experienced Services Program for those 55 and older.

Private companies, or concessionaires, are awarded contracts with the National Park Service to run park lodges, restaurants, and recreation such as mule rides and boat tours, and they must fill seasonal positions. such as shuttle drivers, waiters, housekeepers and cashiers. Job seekers can visit each company’s website and search for seasonal employment by fleet and position.

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One such company is Xanterra, which typically has 3,500 summer employees and handles operations in Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Rocky Mountain and other parks. Another is Aramark, which has about 3,000 summer workers in Yosemite, Mesa Verde, Denali and elsewhere.

Small businesses are also winning contracts. Bright Angel Bicycles, for example, runs a bike shop and cafe on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and offers accommodations in the park in northern Arizona.

Jobs are available late in the season

Currently, positions within the National Park Service are limited; recent federal government research the site only showed three seasonal openings. (Search by keyword and/or location, then filter results by “National Park Service” as the agency and “seasonal” or “summer” as the type of appointment.) But opportunities abound with private companies, which post usually summer jobs starting in November and making offers until early spring. However, positions are still open. “We’re having a really hard time finding employees for all the summer jobs available,” said Shannon Dierenbach, director of human resources at Xanterra.

The Xanterra jobs website had a banner at the end of March: “New jobs just posted! Join us for the 2022 season.” The company is onboarding seasonal workers throughout the summer, Dierenbach said.

Aramark is hiring through the end of April, but it also expects to have vacancies after that, said Jordan Glazier, vice president of human resources for the company’s leisure division.

Forever Resorts, with operations in Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Big Bend, Grand Teton and more, is doing the bulk of its hiring now for the season, but it’s continuing to hire throughout the summer, according to Kim Clancy, Human Resources Director.

There are short term gigs

In addition to summer positions, there are also less publicized opportunities to work as little as four weeks in the fall, after students return to college and because other workers quit. The parks “definitely need an influx at the end,” said CoolWorks’ Fowler, who calls the brief gigs “toe-dipping.”

Because recruiters are focused on filling positions for the summer, short stays remain under the radar. “It’s sort of the secret menu. You have to know it exists to order it,” Fowler said. Strategies for finding these openings include applying and only listing fall dates you can work, or contacting employers in August to ask about opportunities for September and October.

Xanterra offers its Helping Hands program at select parks in the spring and fall, which allows participants to work 20 to 30 hours per week for six weeks. “It allows us to help fill the shoulder season while providing employees who may not be available all season but would like an experience,” Dierenbach said.

Anyone considering a seasonal park job should think about what they want and why the experience is appealing. The answers to these questions can determine the right job, and even park it, hiring managers say.

Fowler advises researching a potential employer to determine if they’re a good fit. One company may have employees who work six days a week, while another may prioritize two days off. Know your dealbreakers and what you hope to gain from experience. “Lead with that when you’re looking for different opportunities with different companies because it’s a job seekers market,” Fowler said. “It can be easy to get carried away with the excitement of something.”

All levels of experience are acceptable

Some jobs are specialized and for management roles you will need supervisory experience. But many openings are entry-level positions, where a positive attitude and a willingness to learn may suffice. “A lot of those roles in hosting, if you’ve got the drive and the positivity attached to it, it’s 90%,” Glazier said.

Don’t be afraid of being seen as overqualified; business professionals apply and are welcome. “It’s a great opportunity to take a break or switch from one career to another and take a few months off. What better place to do that than in nature? said Andy Stiles, general manager of Xanterra Services in Glacier National Park.

The desire to work in a national park can creep into people, perhaps while they’re on vacation, said Stiles, who knows this firsthand. He grew up in Tyler, Texas and had never seen a mountain until he went on a road trip with friends after graduating from high school. While in Yellowstone, an employee jokingly asked the buddies if they wanted jobs. “It was an epiphany. I didn’t realize people actually work in national parks if you’re not a ranger,” Stiles said. After graduating from college, he worked at the front desk. from the Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone What started as a summer turned into a 20-year career in various roles at multiple parks.

Housing is cheap, but communal

Each company has its own accommodation in the park, as part of its federal contract. Accommodations vary, but the norm is dormitory-style, with meal plans in an employee dining room. The cost, deducted from paychecks, is a fraction of what tourists pay for a room during the summer. Limited RV sites may be available.

Most workers have roommates and couples live together. When matching roommates, housing managers ask about personal preferences and avoid pairing people who work opposite schedules, so that sleep isn’t disrupted. “That’s probably one of the big puzzles that our housing managers are dealing with,” Glazier said.

Friendships form faster and deeper than in other environments; industry veterans liken it to the early days of college or summer camp, as everyone meets and decides who they click with. As different generations work, live, and dine together, unexpected friendships form, like a 70-year-old man and a 20-year-old man who become hiking partners on days off.

Bridget Byrne, 26, spent the summers of 2017 to 2020 as an intern and then as a ranger interpreter at Isle Royale State Park in Michigan. The isolated island in the middle of Lake Superior is only accessible by boat or floatplane. The tight-knit community of employees was therefore crucial, said Byrne, a Michigan native. “These are the people you depend on on a daily basis,” she said. “We get to live and work in places people can only dream of visiting.”

It’s a job, not a vacation

Parks bustle with activity all summer long, and hard work is part of the deal. The advice repeated by seasonal workers and recruiters is to be open-minded and flexible. “It all depends on your state of mind when you’re in these places,” said O’Brien-Ducharme, the seasonal worker from Yellowstone. “If you’re the type of person who gets upset easily or isn’t used to change, this may not be for you.”

The experience pushes you out of your comfort zone, so Fowler advises patience with your hiking boots. “You’re going to have a button pressed,” she said. “It has all the makings of a mini-drama, all the twists and turns.”

Waters is a New Jersey-based writer. His website is Find it on Twitter: @sharonannwaters

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