For Jake Cordtz, it was never a question.
The best place to work was the outside, and it was only a matter of time before he became a park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Cordtz grew up in McCall, Idaho. When he was 15, he took a job with Idaho Parks and Recreation as a park aide, cleaning restrooms and helping the rangers with trail maintenance or whatever else the parks needed.
“It was a first real job that I had. Before that I worked in restaurants, as a busboy and dishwasher and that kind of thing. This was kind of my first breakout into wearing work boots, getting out in the field, getting dirty and I loved it,” Cordtz said.
Cordtz worked for Idaho Parks and Recreation for eight years, first in his hometown, then in Boise when he moved there after high school.
“I did the seasonal programs for the state parks, working my way to be a ranger and then saw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a possibility. It required college and experience and, so I kind of went after that, and that’s what led me to being a student ranger here at Lucky Peak,” Cordtz said.
Park rangers are not usually the first thing people think about when they think of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). However, the Corps offers a much wider range of job opportunities than just engineering. This includes employing their own rangers to manage their own parks and natural resources. The Walla Walla District alone has recreational areas along Lucky Peak Lake, the Dworshak Reservoir, and the Snake River. Lucky Peak alone averages about a million visitors every summer.
In 2007, Cordtz became a student ranger at Lucky Peak as part of the Student Career Employment Program (SCEP) and later became an intern through the Pathways Internship Program. The Pathways Internship Program offers students paid positions with federal agencies, including the Corps, while still attending school. Upon completing their degree or educational program, Pathways interns can then move into permanent positions.
When Cordtz graduated, there was no position open for a park ranger, so he took a position within the Walla Walla District’s Regulatory Division, also officed in Boise. When a position opened, and he was able to apply for it. He has been a ranger at Lucky Peak ever since.
“If I were to tell somebody what my job was and if they were to walk away with an impression of what we do, ultimately we’re here to facilitate a safe, clean, fun environment for everyone to enjoy and ultimately with the goal of keeping people safe in our parks,” Cordtz said.
With a million visitors every summer, maintaining safety at Lucky Peak is important and sometimes challenging. Whether it’s a fallen tree or a boat stalled out on the lake, rangers need to be ready.
“We are out in the field, patrolling, dealing with people, and solving problems, which is something I really enjoy. Problem-solving on your feet is a skill, certainly a learned skill for myself. It’s something that took me a while to get under my belt, and now I really enjoy it. I would say that’s one of my favorite things.” Cordtz said.
Cordtz has now been with the Corps for 14 years, and most of that has been spent as a Park Ranger.
“If you like being outside, then this is probably the best job you’ll ever have,” Cordtz said to anyone who is considering a similar career path.
Those looking to pursue a career as a park ranger with the Corps or another federal agency can find listings at https://www.usajobs.gov/. More information about Lucky Peak Dam and Lake can be found at https://www.nww.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Lucky-Peak-Dam-and-Lake/.