People touring Little Elk Preserve
October 3, 2019

Rewards and challenges of being a parks and trails manager

An update from Arielle Courtney, DNR

Whenever I tell people I work for DNR Parks and Trails, I usually receive one of several reactions. The first reaction is usually delight at the idea of playing with frogs and butterflies all day, what a lucky person you are! Other times, people smile and make a reference to the popular TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” to which I respond, “Yes, that show is eerily accurate!” Most commonly, people will be bursting at the seams to talk with me about an issue or idea for their local park, trail, or water body, and what can I do to help? This often transitions into a hunting or fishing rules conversation as well. Unfortunately, more than a handful of these conversations are negative in nature.

Yes, working for an organization that provides enjoyment and memories for countless Minnesotans is often satisfying, fulfilling, and fun! However, it doesn’t come without its challenges, as many of you know. To give you a better sense of what it is like to be a park or trail manager, we polled our staff to understand what are the best and most challenging aspects of their jobs.

Best Parts of the Job

  • Witnessing visitors enjoying their time outside with friends and family
  • Connecting people to the outdoors, especially children, and seeing the impact of their learning
  • Creating a fun and safe work environment for my staff and seeing them succeed
  • Feeling gratified when park or trail operations run smoothly
  • Protecting the natural and cultural resources of our state parks and trails
  • Working with community and friends groups to improve our state parks and trails
  • Solving problems large and small

“The most rewarding part of my job is watching our visitors make memories in our awesome parks and trails!”

“The moments when I have some opportunity to have a positive impact on natural and cultural resource protection within the park be it through collaborations or through decision-making about how we approach our jobs.”

“Connecting visitors, especially children, to the outdoors in ways that are profound and leave a lifelong impact…I love that I get to work with the public and use my creativity and passion to help others find value in and reverence for our natural resources.”

“Working to complete projects that will impact the way people recreate now and the way people recreate in future generations.”

Most Challenging Parts of the Job

  • Continued budget cuts and funding constraints
  • The challenge of maintaining visitor expectations and facilities with fewer staff and resources at our disposal
  • Too many competing priorities that prevent accomplishing tasks and projects in a timely manner
  • Paperwork and government bureaucracy that makes getting things done and collaboration slow or difficult
  • Handling visitor complaints and issues

“Budgets, funding, and time limits the job you want to do. You have to say no to one person so you have the time and funding to say yes to someone else. Much of the job is triage.”

“Trying to keep up with the ongoing maintenance of facilities with fewer staff and resources.”

“Time management for both myself and for limited staff while working in a position that has a wide-ranging suite of responsibilities, many competing demands and many unpredictable aspects that come from working with the public and in a natural environment.”

What do you think? Do these results surprise you, or are they what you expected? Next time, learn more about what staff really need help with from volunteers and friends groups and what they wish you knew about working with us!

As always, if you have questions or topics you would like me to cover in this section, don’t hesitate to contact me at 651-259-5609 or

Happy trails,


Partnership Development Consultant

Minnesota DNR, Parks & Trails Division

About Ashley Pethan