What’s It Like to Run a National Park?

Bob deGross has been Superintendent of Voyageurs National Park since late 2016.  We caught up with him during a rare free moment to hear more about his job with the National Park Service.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service? 

I truly believe that the National Park Service is a great agency that cares for those places, protected by the efforts of concerned citizens, that truly tell the story of the United States through our scenic natural, and cultural landscapes. Visiting and learning about national park sites provide a great opportunity for people to learn about and connect to the story of the United States of America.

How long have you been working for NPS and more specifically, at Voyageurs? 

I started working with the National Park Service as a seasonal interpreter in the summer of 1989 at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. I worked seasonally for 5 years, then was offered my first permanent job in as an interpreter during the Spring of 1994 at the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park in Florida. I began working at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota December of 2016.

What’s your favorite part of the job? 

Getting out of my office. As the superintendent you deal with a variety of meetings related to personnel issues, community relations, and long-term planning. It’s a treat to get out in the field to travel through the park and see progress on projects that you spent so much time discussing in meetings. It’s fulfilling when you see things come together. A recent example is our rebuild of the Kettle Falls Overlook. Planning for that project took several years and now it’s finally getting completed. The team is doing a great job on the project. They take pride in all the work they do at the park.

What kinds of careers are available in the Park Service? 

There’s a great variety of careers within the National Park Service. At Voyageurs National Park our main function areas include Administration / Business Services; Visitor and Resource Protection (Law Enforcement); Natural and Cultural Resources; Interpretation and Education; and Facilities Management. There are a variety of opportunities beyond just what a person might think of what a “park ranger” is. Beside the typical conservation / preservation roles of wildlife biologist, park interpreter, or park law enforcement officer there’s opportunities in information / technology fields, budget, and finance, and a variety of others. The great thing about working with the NPS is that you get to live in some spectacular places, though the process of finding a seasonal or permanent job can have its frustrations. From my perspective it doesn’t matter what your day-to-day job is, in the end we are all working towards one objective – care for these special places, set aside by the American people, that tell the story of the United States.

Your park’s best kept secret is…? 

Not sure I want to share; it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. There are two. The first is to hike into the interior lakes on the Kabetogama Peninsula within the park. By doing so you really get an experience that provides solitude and escape. The likelihood is you won’t see another person on the trail. It’s best to take the hikes in late May / early June, or late September / early October. You can arrange use of canoes on the remote interior lakes through recreation.gov, once you hike in then you can paddle on the lake with no sign of other people at all. The second is that we have the best campsites in the NPS across the entire nation, but don’t tell anyone. Every site is lake side, each has an amazing view of the lake and great amenities such as tent pads, core pads, fire ring, picnic table, and bear lockers. The catch at Voyageurs National Park is that access to the peninsula trails and campsites requires either your own boat, or to hire a commercial operator. Probably 90% of the activities in the park will require this. There are trails that you can access on the mainland too, some short like the Beaver Pond Overlook, or Blind Ash Trail; some longer like the Kab-Ash Trail.

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