I remember we were on a Biology retreat in 6th grade at Beulah Mountain Park, and that’s when it happened. I almost fell into the pond while skimming the water with a net, but instead jumped ten feet from the dock to the bank. One of my classmates said “Whoa you should be a park ranger or an action hero”. Hmm…action hero… After already enjoying the outdoors most of my life I knew early on that my career would be something related to the outdoors. Believe it or not, in 8th grade I went and saw Cliffhanger in the movie theater. This movie was another catalyst that leads me on the path that I am on. Park ranger, rock climbing, snow and action heroes, what more could a person ask for.
After a little research on the different types of park ranger careers I realized I would have to focus on math and science. Through high school, I took many different AP classes including AP Chemistry. I knew I wanted to go to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado has many of the degrees related to the requirements of a Park Ranger career. However, due to cost I ended up taking my first year and half at Southern Colorado University (which later became CSU-South) to get the general requirements done. I then went to Colorado State University and after switching my major from Forestry to Natural Resource Management I graduated in 1999. There are numerous programs out there for someone who would want to get into this field but I realized early on that having experience and knowledge in numerous topic best suited my overall career goals.
As I write this blog post for Latino Outdoors, I realize I’ve mentioned nothing of my Latino heritage, not because it isn’t important but mostly because it was a part of me already. I was the first in my family to graduate with a four year degree and the first to complete my Masters, which seems to be the norm for our heritage. Being Hispanic means something a little different to everyone in our culture. To me family, culture and pride were the cornerstones of my future successes.
During my undergraduate college years in Fort Collins, I first volunteered and then was hired as a seasonal for Lory State Park. I was hooked on state parks after this experience. I had originally thought I wanted to be a Federal Park Ranger, but after seeing what state parks folks accomplish on a day to day basis, I realized that is what I wanted to do. For anyone that might want to pursue a career in this industry, I can’t stress the point enough of volunteering or working as a seasonal for a federal, state or local park. First you gain experience second if you do a good job it may be your first step towards permanent employment.
After I graduated in December of 1999, my son was born on January 1, 2000, so I knew I needed to find a permanent position in my career of choice. I ended up applying to several western state’s park systems and Nevada was the first to call and offer me a position. I spent the next several years first working as a Park Ranger at a historic site and then as a Park Superintendent at a reservoir park.
During my Nevada State Park career, I made it my mission to be one of the most qualified state parks employees around. I received my M.S from Slippery Rock University, became a certified Peace Officer and a Certified Public Manager. I am not sure it is advice, but I will say working on a Masters while working full-time and having a family is not the easiest thing in the world. During the next several years, I worked on every certificate that related to my job that I could find from EMT to Cave Rescue and everything in between. The moral of the story is the jobs and promotions in this profession are competitive, so you need to have a competitive edge. If you find training that relates to being a park person, take the training.
Approximately two years into my park superintendent position one of my colleagues and I started a park ranger association. We started to work on various topics at the state legislative level and I loved it. I knew I wanted to run my own parks system. I was very blessed to apply and be the successful choice as the Administrator for Wyoming State Parks. The last seven years has been a whirlwind of learning and growth. The last piece of advice I will give folks looking to pursue this as a career is to take calculated risk. The old adage “you never know unless you try” is a must for this profession. As a matter of fact, it may be the key to success.
Domenic Bravo is the State Park Director in Wyoming. He is also the incoming president for the National Association of State Park Directors and the first Hispanic president in its 50+ year history! You can contact Domenic at:firstname.lastname@example.org