Bruce and Sara Schundler spend a lot of time at national parks — not as tourists, but as seasonal employees. At $16.90 an hour, the retired couple is living a dream of fresh air and engaging work.
At Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, Sara has developed a talk about pirates for visitors. At Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Bruce has shared expertise on North American Indian migration.
Punching the clock at one of the country's many national parks, monuments and historic sites can be a great option for retirees and people facing layoffs. It's generally seasonal work, as the park bulks up its staff for peak times of year.
The National Park Service and its $1-billion-a-year concession industry rely on thousands of seasonal employees for everything from giving ranger talks about history and nature to manning the entry gates to shuttling employees from housing to work. And that housing — cabins, dormitories, apartments or RV spots – often is a perk that comes with the job.
Nearly a third of the national park workforce is over the age of 50, a "priceless" resource for the agency that protects the nation's most revered places, says Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
"Imagine. People with advanced degrees, 30 or more years in careers as engineers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, fire fighters, police officers, you name it … and they want to work in a national park," Jarvis told AARP. "They provide amazing programs for visitors."
Thousands of park positions don't require experience, especially those with the 497 park concessioners — private contractors operating park services such as restaurants and lodging, river rafting and bus tours.
Interested? Here are five tips for finding your job at the park:
- Get started early. The Park Service and concessions companies typically hire six months in advance. You can find listings at usajobs.com and coolworks.com.
- Old hands advise applicants not to apply for just one season, since jobs are posted throughout the year.
- Don't limit your search to openings posted by the parks themselves. Check out the private websites of concessionaires, which also may include jobs at resorts and camps. Many concessionaire companies are listed by park on this National Park Service website. Concession company Xanterra starts looking as early as mid-January for summer workers at Yellowstone National Park Lodges, Grand Canyon South Rim, Zion Lodge, Crater Lake Lodge, Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va. At the Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, the company hires for the winter season in the summer.
- Consider whether living in your own camper and traveling job-to-job might work for you. Job prospects in parks and elsewhere for camper owners are listed at www.workamper.com.
- Keep an eye out for job fairs hosted by resorts or concessionaire companies.
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