The Summer Job that Got Away: Glacier National Park, Montana


national parks centennial yearThis is the Centennial Celebration year for our National Parks. I have visited just under half of the 58 parks under the National Park Service. My friends Charles and Serena, partially retired college professors, travel in their RV to work in a bookstore every summer in a different park.

There are loads of summer, or seasonal jobs available in National Parks and there’s nothing better than actually living inside a park. If you are available to work the entire summer, mid-June through Labor Day, or a chunk of August, your chances are greatly increased to acquire the job.

Thousands of visitors need places to stay, activities to enjoy, meals to eat and gifts to take home, among many other services. Although there are plenty of positions available in food, retail sales, and hotel management, I like to work directly with information and people.

Since seventh grade, I planned to drive to Denali National Park to work as a summer hire Park Ranger. I hear you asking, ‘Why a Park Ranger?’ I wanted a credible, responsible job to interact with real information and bring something of value to tourists from around the world. I applied for my dream job but did not even get an interview for one of the few, highly competitive ranger positions.

Fortunately I landed a kind-of-cousin, somewhat related job similar to a Park Ranger, which turned out great for me.  It was a summer commitment, May 15 – Labor Day, 2007. McKinley Village Lodge, run by Aramark Corporation, was looking to hire an oral interpreter to entertain guests. I researched, wrote and delivered programs (in costume) on women in the Gold Rush, the conservation movement, and Athabaskan story telling. I also led a Nature Walk along the beautiful Nenana River, glacial river which runs along the eastern boundary of Denali National Park and is very popular for rafting and white water kayaking.

I loved my job and taught others to deliver the vignettes so that I could flip my days on and days off every other week, resulting in four-day weekends, perfect for covering as much of the state as I could in my Corolla.  Two wonderful additions to my ‘primary’ job were driving the courtesy shuttle and meeting the trains arriving daily from Fairbanks and Alaska. Driving the shuttle buses helped me plan my next goal: To drive one of the vintage red tour buses in Glacier National Park. I applied and received an interview.

“We’d love to have you,” said the HR director, “but housing is filled with teens and college students. If you have a motor home to live in, we’ll provide a hookup and you’ve got a job.”

Hmmm, I called the few people I knew with RVs and researched the cost to rent one, but summer is prime season and the price exceeded my anticipated earnings. My limited knowledge of engines and RV care and maintenance was yet another limitation. My next adventure is learning how to live in an RV. Oh the places I’ll go and the people I’ll meet.