Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park

Developing park ranger skills in an urban environment

August 2, 2010, 8:46 am

What kind of person would want to be a national park ranger? An outdoorsy type? Someone who loves to tramp through the woods, scale mountains, ford streams?

That's not Melissa Burch.

Her name may sound like a tree, but "I never even went hiking," said Burch, a park ranger intern who clearly wasn't all that eager to start communing with nature (or bears) on a regular basis.

That makes her perfect for the job.

Burch is one of 13 Temple University students involved in a pilot partnership with the National Park Service to cultivate and train gun-carrying law enforcement rangers who want to work in urban parks such as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.

"Most people who want to be park rangers want to be in places like Yellowstone National Park," said Burch, who interns at Independence Park. "I think they want to get on a horse and ride around. But I love the city. I love that you can leave here and get on a bus."

If only chief regional ranger Jill A. Hawk (another appropriate park name) could have a forest of Burches.

Hawk, who is stationed in Philadelphia, says she struggles to keep the law enforcement park ranger positions filled in cities like Philadelphia, or downtown Boston, where the national park includes Faneuil Hall.

"That's why we are going after students who like the urban environment and want to stay here," said Hawk. Temple was a perfect fit, she said, because its graduates tend to remain in the area. The student body is also diverse, another plus for the primarily Caucasian park service.

"There's a myth that being a park ranger is all about the big western parks," said Hawk, who supervises 230 to 250 law enforcement rangers in the region, which includes Acadia National Park in Maine and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.