State park employees do more than hike and create campsites

Lots of paperwork and inspections take up their day

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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Colin Wright has been working at Lindbergh State Park since May. He will be helping Park Manager Ty Gangelhoff until November with all the duties a park manager is required to do.

While he has always wanted to work in the natural resource field, Wright has learned it’s not all fun and games.

Colin Wright, park operations specialist at Lindbergh State Park, recommended to those people aspiring to work for the Department of Natural Resources to get summer jobs, to apply for internships and volunteer at state parks.

“We don’t walk around the woods all day long,” said Wright. “There is a lot of paperwork involved in running a park such as preparing budgets, repairing equipment and inspecting campsites.”

Gangelhoff, who has taken on a temporary job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed with Wright, and said, “While I am working on a statewide retail management program for the DNR, Wright has taken on some of my responsibilities which I don’t have time for. He does campground checks and helps enforce camp rules. He conducts safety inspections and hazardous tree surveys. He also works closely with the campers and visitors plus tends the gift shop, working with vendors and doing the purchasing.”

Gangelhoff said that people think the job of park manager is a lot of outdoor work, but it’s really running a small business owned by the government.

Wright’s title is park operations specialist.

“I was trained to be a trainer,” he said. “In 2005, I received a Gary Westby Internship for about four weeks. I was given the opportunity to work in every DNR division in Kandiyohi County.”

Then in 2008, Wright was given an internship with the Wildlife Division of the DNR, working in the shallow lakes program. He was asked to survey wetlands for waterfowl habitat and do water quality testing.

In between the two internships, Wright worked in the construction field, gaining building expertise which has helped him a lot working with the DNR.

He said that if someone wants to work for the DNR, and he did, that it’s important to do all that’s possible to get a foot in the door.

Twice during college he received an internship with the Chippewa River Watershed Project in Montevideo. For that, Wright assessed water quality and did surface water assessments for nutrients and bacteria levels for recreation suitability.

Wright graduated from the University of Minnesota – Duluth with a four-year degree in environmental studies, a very broad program, he admitted.

“There weren’t a lot of jobs in the field at that time,” he said. “I was leaning toward water resource management, wildlife or working within the state park system.”

Wright thought that because of retirements and restructuring, he would be able to start his career within the water division. But, that didn’t work out.

“I was hired in April 2011 by the Parks and Trails Division as a park operations specialist at Tettegouch, Temperance River and Split Rock state parks,” said Wright. “My job was to train people in park management.”

To become part of any division of the DNR, Wright said the applicant needs a natural resources, parks and recreation or environmental studies or related field degree to be in management.

“To get in the door, an applicant should pursue internships, he or she should be qualified for many positions and be willing to move around,” he said. “Many times an intern position will turn into a trainee position.”

Wright said that the job he had in construction helped a lot in getting his job. Gangelhoff agreed, saying that taking computer classes and business management courses in college also helped.

“Be persistent when applying. Stress qualifications up front,” Wright said. “When deciding if this is for you, talk with state park workers about their job and what their qualifications were. Ask what they look for in a new employee.”

Wright also suggested calling the DNR to learn what they look for in their employees.

“Get as much experience as possible, volunteer at state parks whenever you can, get summer work or internships,” he said.

Gangelhoff agreed, saying that experience outside the field that can transfer over to DNR field work is invaluable.

“Retail experience, customer service, maintenance and construction are all helpful,” he said.

Wright said he would love to hike in the woods more than he does. But, there are many demands on his time and saves his hiking for after work.