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State Park Jobs and Career Opportunities - Kansas

Interview with a Park Manager

By

Name: Steve Mathes

Current Position: Park Manager

How long have you been with Kansas State Parks and in what capacity?
9 years as Park Ranger, 21 years as Park Manager.

How did you become involved in working as a Park Ranger and later as a Park Manager?
I worked as a seasonal employee for the park while attending college. Since I hunted and fished back in those years, and enjoyed wildlife observation, I always thought this would be a great line of work to be involved with.

Describe a typical day at your job. (If there is no such thing as a typical day, then please tell us about your primary responsibilities and duties.)
There really is no typical day as a park manager. You must be ready at all times to change from administrative duties to maintenance, law enforcement, sales, search and recovery, construction, or coordination duties at any time. Generally, my day includes routine office duties, checking park facilities, checking for proper park permits, coordinating seasonal staff and an inmate crew, possibly some maintenance activity, and purchasing. My duties change somewhat as the seasons change and also as the number of park visitors vary.

How many hours a week do you work in this position?
45-50 hours per week

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
I would say that what I enjoy most about my job is the diverse duties I perform. I tend to get bored if I do the same thing day after day, but that is definitely not the case as a park manager.

What do you find to be the greatest challenges of your job?
My greatest challenge is trying to accomplish everything that is required with the minimal staff we have, and maintaining the park to my standards. We desperately need a full time maintenance position which we do not have. Splitting my time between the required administrative, law enforcement, and maintenance duties and still have time for hands on work is almost impossible. We are understaffed, and that makes this position a very high stress job.

What kind of training/schooling is required in your position?
B.S. in Parks and Recreation, or Fish & Wildlife Management is preferred. Depending upon your specific degree and experience, there may be other options. Be sure to take classes in English Composition, even though you may dislike them. I have found that those classes may have been the most important classes of my college years. You must be a good writer to produce quality budget requests, reports, and management plans. Without this skill, the administrative portion of this position will be very difficult.

Is there any kind of training or general experience that you wish you had before taking your job?
More experience in the maintenance trades would have been an asset. With our limited budgets, we must try to make as many repairs as we can with our staff, rather than hiring all of our work done with outside labor.

What are a few of the projects that you've been working on recently that have been the most interesting?
We have been working with contractors on the installation of a new shower building. After requesting this new facility through our budget process for many years, it is exciting to finally see it take place. We are also in the process of replacing a vault toilet, and extending a nature trail. Last winter, I completed an update of our 5 year management plan. While very time consuming, it gives you the opportunity to dream a little on paper, and gives you a direction to go.

If someone were interested in working as a [position], what advice could you give them?
The position of manager is much different than it appears to be looking in from the outside. We occasionally get comments such as "What do you do in the winter?", or "It would be nice to be able to just drive around all day as a park employee!" I recently hired a new ranger and he wasn't very long realizing the amount of work there is to do 'behind the scenes' to maintain and operate a park. There is never a day that goes by that while I am working on one project, I am thinking about several other projects I also need to be working on. There just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Any further thoughts?
Park managers have a high stress job, and you work when everyone else is playing. If you have thoughts about summer vacations and lazy summer days, you need to look elsewhere for a career. There are seldom summer vacations. In fact, I normally turn back unused vacation time just because of the work load. You will miss almost all family reunions between May and September. You also need to have a strong understanding family. We have seen many employee's in this field get divorced because you work most summer weekends, and nights when your spouse is off, and your days off are on weekdays. That can be very tough on family relations, and you need to be prepared. It can be a rewarding career, but it comes at a cost. If you manage your park properly, you get to witness hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout your career enjoying the great outdoors!

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