Parks and Recreation as a Career

When I tell people I work in Parks and Recreation, I get one of two responses. Do you watch the show? Or, so you’re a park ranger? For those curious, both of those answers are no. 

In 2015, I took a class labeled ‘REC 101’. It was supposed to be an extracurricular credit class to take up some time. The first day in that class, I was a sophomore transfer student at a new college and had no idea of what I wanted to do in life. Up until that point, I didn’t care either. The professor wrote her name on the board, we dove right into the syllabus, and I remember when we were done she told us in the most nonchalant way, “oh yea, this is also a major and if you’re interested, check out the bulletin board in the hallway.” From that exact point, I was hooked. 

You’d probably expect for someone that chose that major, that career path, that their background was outdoor oriented. Their family went camping on weekends, road tripped around the US, and skied every winter in Vail. I am here to tell you, my family never camped, the furthest we went in a car was to Disney World, and I hated skiing with a passion. So why choose that path? 

I didn’t hate the outside. I was a normal kid who played outside until dinner was called throughout the neighborhood. I climbed trees, wandered parks, and adored wildlife. I didn’t have that great “ah-ha” moment until college though. I never considered myself a hiker, backpacker, camper, kayaker, rock climber…any of that until I learned about Parks and Recreation. Once I declared the major, I was fixated on classes and my education- something I was unfamiliar with up until that point. I learned about topics like event planning city-wide, coal as a natural resource in Kentucky, waterway laws, and managing a facility like a recreation center. 

Going through the program, it was unique compared to others. We (myself and my peers) didn’t have much homework. It’s more of a hands on career path. You have to get used to being the stereotype of an “easy” major or career because you don’t have much homework, you do however- have meetings and events multiple times a week which makes for a large time commitment. My roommates stayed up late working on papers, I stayed up late at the kids’ festival downtown working with the Event Planner. Outside from the classroom, I had to learn to hike, camp, rock climb, and throw myself into many uncomfortable, new situations (another great bonus).

Graduating with any sort of Parks and Recreation or Natural Resources degree opens doors to opportunities, at least I, never knew existed. Never before did I really think about who controls the environment safety protocols in state or national parks, who researches the animals in the area to make sure they’re flourishing, who runs the theme parks, who manages the campgrounds or who decided to give tours at this historical landmark. Recreation as a whole is often looked over. I’ve worked within cities where other departments, comment that the recreation department is lazy. Why? Is it because we run the festivals? Teach kids how to swim? Instruct Zumba classes daily? Recreation is a FUN profession, but someone has to do it, right? 

What in the world can you do with Parks and Recreation?

  • Parks Manger
  • Parks Maintenance
  • Recreation Coordinator
  • Aquatics Manager
  • Park Ranger
  • Camp Director
  • Childcare Programmer
  • Sports Coach
  • Tour Guide
  • Wedding Planner
  • Therapeutic Recreation Assistant
  • Teacher/Professor
  • Theme Park Manager
  • Scuba Instructor
  • Travel Agent
  • Fish & Game Warden
  • Cruise Ship Activities Director
  • & so much more!

Recreation, and especially Parks, is a men-dominated industry. There’s no getting around that, and there’s no problem with it. Which gender dominating which field shouldn’t matter. What does matter is the reactions I and thousands of other women get when we (for example) hike alone. Aren’t you scared? Why are you out here all alone? What do you carry to protect yourself? The outdoors and recreation should be an outlet for EVERYBODY. No matter how they want to utilize it. Women are slowly rising in this field and learning to represent themselves and each other in the recreation/outdoor industry. 

Writer Kaelin Stallsworth sitting on rocks in front of a waterfall in Brevard ,NC.
Brevard, North Carolina. Photo by Hannah Thiessen.

Companies are learning that women in the outdoors matter, and getting them together to do what they love to do, is profitable, a learning experience, and can be used for so much good. REI developed their platform “Force of Nature.” They put on over 1,000 classes just for women to make them a priority. Girls Who Hike, a national organization that I am honored to be a part of, leads hundreds of hikes all over the US every month. These hikes are by women, for women and they include other outdoor activities as well. Podcast She Explores, by Gale Straub, focuses on stories of women who are inspired by their time outside. 

Why the huge wave of women in the outdoors the past couple of years is a popular but irrelevant topic. I, for one, am proud that women alongside myself are gaining the confidence to join men and get more involved. Try more activities, buy the gear, and put yourself out there. Since my first involvement in the industry in 2015, observing all the changes and shifts within shock me in the most exhilarating way. I can’t wait for more women to join the outdoors based organizations and get professional positions that allow for them to speak their voice in the recreation world. 

I’ve been criticized, judged, and doubted as a young women in the profession but it only fuels my fire. I truly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. You have to have that fiery passion for the outdoors, fun, and helping others. Recreation and Parks is there to help the QUALITY of one’s life. No matter what you chose to do in the field, from a pool attendant to the county Parks Director, it’s vital to everyone around you, even if they don’t realize it yet.

About the Writer

Kaelin is a full-time recreation professional. She is a Childcare and Camp Director and leads hikes with Girls Who Hike in her free time. She lives in Ohio, loves to visit coffee shops, and runs the outdoors and adventure based blog, Kindly Kae. 


Instagram: @kaestalls

Twitter: @kindlykae

Email: [email protected]

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