Ranger Russ Zahler
Park Service Profiles
For some park rangers, finding a career in the park service is a life that has come full circle, like Ranger Russ who grew up in parks. Ranger Russ Zahler from Lake Warren State Park was raised in Hampton and Gaston, South Carolina, and his father was the Park Maintenance Supervisor at Sesquicentennial State Park. Growing up in parks, Ranger Russ says he had a unique opportunity. “Sometimes my dad would take me to work, and I got to help him do the regular trash runs, clean bathrooms, and occasionally I even got to help out with programs. This helped me see a lot more of what the job is truly like before getting into the field.”
Ranger Russ started working as an Assistant Ranger at Sesquicentennial State Park and Goodale State Park in June of 2019. In 2021, he graduated from Central Carolina Technical College with an Associates in Science and was promoted to Ranger I at Lake Warren State Park in July of that year.
Daily duties can differ from park to park. Ranger Russ says that at “Lake Warren, we do not have a maintenance staff, so my manager and I handle the complete operation of the park. This means we do everything from cutting grass, weed eating, making reservations, retail sales, leading guided hikes, and even handling the administrative side of the park’s operation.”
An important part of being a park ranger is ensuring visitors have a positive experience and make lasting memories. Russ says the “most satisfying thing is knowing that our visitors leave Lake Warren with a positive memory. Whether that was from speaking with me about the park and what we have to offer, or it was that the lawns were well kept and the park looked good for their visit. Making a positive impression on people and creating great lifelong memories is definitely a satisfying part of my job.”
Park rangers interact with many people on a daily basis and public speaking is a necessary skill. Ranger Russ says that one of the most difficult things he has faced is learning to be more confident and developing strong public speaking skills. “When I first started, I wasn’t confident at all in my ability to speak in front of people or crowds. Over time, however, I’ve gained a lot of confidence and now feel like it’s a lot easier than it was three years ago,” he says.
We asked Russ what advice he would give to someone who was interested in becoming a park ranger and he said “if I had advice, it would be to go to college, get your degree, and learn all you can during that time. Don’t be afraid to start as a seasonal employee at one of our parks to get a feel for it. This way you will know if working for our parks is something you can see yourself doing.”
Thank you, Ranger Russ, for your hard work and dedication to the state park service. To see what a day in Ranger Russ’ life is like, watch episode 15 of our Day in the Life YouTube series.
Think you might be interested in a job with the South Carolina State Park Service? Click here to see our current, full-time job openings!