Josh Ash: Seasonal Protection Ranger, National Park Service
Josh Ash, a seasonal protection ranger with the National Park Service. (Photo courtesy of Josh Ash)
By Nushin Huq
Between 2 Pines Magazine
Curious about what it would be like to be someone who is in charge of rescuing stranded hikers, or who is responsible for enforcing the rules at a national park? Meet Josh Ash, an Asian-American who turned his background in emergency management into a career with the national park service.
Answers reflect own opinions and not that of the National Park Service. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Where do you work?
Ash: Different national parks across the country. I have worked at Death Valley National Park, Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit, Dinosaur National Monument. I will be going to Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.
Q: How did you get into this career path?
Ash: Initially, I wanted to become an emergency room nurse but decided to go down the EMS career path instead. After dealing with urban EMS for a year, I needed a change of pace and started to look into doing rural EMS. Working in an office setting was never a job I thought I could do. I wanted to do something that would challenge me every day and that nothing would be considered routine; working in the outdoors was just a plus.
Q: Did you always want to work in the outdoors?
Ash: I started out as an EMT-B in the Seattle area. After a year, I wanted to do something more rural. I spent a couple of months trying to figure out what to do when my father-in-law, who was a retired park ranger, told me about this career path. He told me that if I wanted to stay with emergency services, I would have to do the Seasonal Law Enforcement academy and go through the career path that way.
During the waiting period to get into the academy, I volunteered at a fire department and made a deal with the chief: They would sponsor my EMT and provide training so I could renew my National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians Certification, and I would be a volunteer Wild Land Firefighter.
I graduated from the academy and got my first job at Death Valley and got my Search and Rescue certification. To summarize my certification to date, I am a Law Enforcement officer, EMT-B, Wild Land Firefighter, and Search and Rescue technician. This combination is fairly common on the west side of the country and, in most parks on the west side, a necessity.
Q: Besides being outside, what do you like most about your job?
Ash: Once I get to learn the area, I like talking to the people about it. Many people come and don’t realize the history of the area. For instance, Sandy Hook is the farthest north point on the Jersey coast. Most people go there for the beaches and coastal fishing, but not very many people know that it was a military proving ground for testing weapons for coastal defense since its establishment in 1874 till about 1919. In Dinosaur, if I did not have any pending tasks, I would hike the Harpers Corner trail and talk to people along the way about the area and what they were seeing. At the end of the trail, I usually ended up with a tour group and would point out more things along the way and answered questions.
Q: What are some challenges in your job?
Ash: A challenge in my job is people not realizing that the parks are protected. At least once during each shift, I hear someone state that they did not realize law enforcement rangers are geared up like most other law enforcement agencies with a badge, vest, and duty belt, or they did not know that I can cite them. Each park unit is a house, and every house has their rules. Most stem from Leave No Trace and some are basic safety laws like speeding or endangerment.
Q: What surprised you most about your job?
Ash: How much freedom I really have. I never thought I would become law enforcement and actually like it. I have a chance to preserve the parks for future generations and, at times, protect the people from the people.
Q: What advice would you have for other people who want to go into this field?
Ash: You do not have to be in emergency services to be a ranger. Interpretation rangers have a vast knowledge of the park and instill stewardship in people. Being able to talk to people and being passionate about certain things is what makes rangers great. I like to focus on the Emergency Services side, I’ve known other Rangers who like to focus on the rock formations or the wildlife. Some even like to focus on writing up new articles to share with the public. There is a space for nearly everyone to be a ranger if they want to.
Q: Are you seeing more diversity in outdoor professionals?
Ash: In emergency services, I am not seeing enough diversity. Often times I am the only Asian American working at the park. I am half Chinese and was mostly raised by my mother where I get my Chinese half from (The other half is Mexican and European possibly). Contrary to what you would think, I actually speak more Spanish than I do Mandarin. Depending on the park, I can either go a whole season and not need to speak another language or there are parks where I have to do it at least once a day. While I am not fluent in either language, the looks in people’s faces when they see that I am trying to converse with them in their own language gives them a sense of excitement that I have not seen elsewhere. On the Interpretation side, I am seeing more diversity spread there than with emergency services, where it is sometimes a necessity to be fluent in a different language depending on the position. Having a diverse workforce would greatly improve visitor experiences.
Q: Why do you think not as many Asian Americans go into careers in the outdoors?
Ash: I can’t speak for everyone, but from my experience and seeing other friends who are also first-generation born Asian Americans, there is a feeling of us children being expected to get a higher education job such as a doctor or carrying on a family tradition like managing the family shop. Secondly, when I was younger, there was never anyone saying that I could have a job as a park ranger. I never knew that such a job existed until I started dating my wife years ago.
Finally, the parks, in general, are not very diverse, to begin with. I think there were only two parks where [I worked], where there was another person of color, and at every park, I was the only Asian. This does not just apply to my position in emergency services, I am talking about the entire park staff. A lot of people of color growing up probably would look at rangers and see how there were not a lot of minority groups and probably think that they could not belong in that group.