As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary August 25, it’s clear its parks are more beloved than ever.
In 2015, 307 million visitors visited some 371 national parks — a new record. Eleven of those parks had more than 5 million visits each. (Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Grand Canyon National Park are the two most visited parks.)
It takes a staff of around 27,000 permanent and temporary workers to keep the parks running. You’re probably most familiar with the park rangers, who lately have been getting their due with the delightful Instagram hashtag #RangersPointingAtThings.
Being a park ranger can involve everything from law enforcement and keeping the peace to trail and monument interpretation.
But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping the national parks up to snuff. Here are eight behind-the-scenes assignments you might get if you’re working for the NPS.
1) “Bark Ranger”
Meet Gracie. As a part of the “Bark Ranger” pilot program, this border collie trains with Mark Biel, the natural resources program manager at Glacier National Park, to herd sheep and goats away from areas that get lots of tourist traffic. (Sheep and goats like to lick salty things, and the visitors provide them with plenty to snack on.)
2) Removing lint from caves
With flocks of tourists visiting national park caves like Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, dust, lint and other gunk collects on the caves’ surfaces. Lint Camp is an NPS volunteer program to make sure the caves are in the best shape possible. Volunteers use brushes, spray bottles, tweezers, and wet rags to remove the material. One volunteer at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Pat Jablonsky, spent 8,111 hours removing 496 pounds of sediment with 386 other volunteers between 1988 and 2014.
3) Centennial poet laureate
The national parks have their very own poet. This year, the NPS chose Sonia Sanchez as the poet laureate of the NPS centennial. Sanchez is an activist and scholar and a member of the Black Arts Movement. When she taught at San Francisco State College (now University) from 1968 to ’69, she was a founder of the first black studies courses in the country.
"Dr. Sanchez inspires all of us with the power of her message of justice and empowerment, community, and the power of place,” says NPS director Jonathan B. Jarvis. You can watch an interview with Dr. Sanchez here.
4) Kennel manager
Sled dogs are the fastest, easiest way to transport materials across the more than 6 million acres that make up Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Mushing is also a quiet form of transportation, which avoids disturbing the natural environment. The kennel, now located about 3 miles inside of Denali, was founded in 1921 to control poaching of caribou, moose, and Dall sheep. Today, kennel manager Jen Raffaeli and other rangers cover thousands of miles each year in the park.
5) Commercial film permits coordinator/winter mail courier
Rachel Cudmore has two jobs: In the summer, she coordinates the permits needed by filmmakers to shoot photography, film, and sound for nature documentaries. From December through March, she keeps the staff at Yellowstone National Park connected to the outside world. Twice a week, she delivers mail and packages around the park in a truck or snowmobile.
6) NPS photographer
NPS posted a photographer’s dream job last winter – a full-time job based out of DC that may require up to 10 months of travel. Yes, it’s just like Ansel Adams, who worked with the Department of the Interior to capture the National Parks from 1941 to 1942.
According to the job listing, the ideal applicant will have experience with "the principles and techniques of large format, black and white photography,” as well as digital.
7) Volunteer coyote scat collector
The NPS has a coyote scat team. And back in May, it was looking for volunteers in the Los Angeles area to collect and analyze coyote turds for a study expected to last for two years.
“This study should yield basic ecology information about the urban coyote, which we hope will assist residents and policy makers in making informed decisions on coyote management,” says biologist Justin Brown, who leads coyote field research for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
8) Chatting up people on Amtrak trains
Trails & Rails is a partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak to provide history and information about a specific region of the country and participating national park sites along certain routes.
In 2013, there were 595 Trails & Rails volunteer guides who gave 70,000 hours of time to the program, and they contacted 500,000 passengers. You can download the 2016 schedule here. If you hop on a train in New York state, for example, you might just be lucky enough to learn some fun facts about the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, one of the area’s oldest Hudson River estates.