A group of people stand next to a river.

An encore and a new career: one park aide's journey

Rex Schultz, Community Engagement Coordinator, shares his journey with parks...so far

I joined Washington State Parks in January 2019 as a Winter Park Aide at the Mount Spokane Sno-Park. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a fantastic stroke of good fortune for me. Initially, I was just excited to find a semi-retirement job that paid me to Nordic ski, snowshoe and occasionally operate a snowmobile. What I ended up finding was the beginning of a rewarding new career.

An ending and a start

I had taken an early retirement from a long and successful career as a PGA Golf Professional, managing a public golf facility and teaching people to golf. I enjoyed my golf career and held a concessionaire’s contract that was due to be renewed. We are only really guaranteed one go-around in life, and I thought it was the right time to try something new, so I retired.

I had no real idea what would come next. I have always enjoyed recreating on our public lands, so I began by volunteering with Washington Trails Association. Through that volunteer work, I met some folks who worked for Parks, and I essentially just pestered them until they hired me. Yes, that old-school method still works!

My first appointment as a Park Aide was a whirlwind of learning new skills, improving our CXT bathroom cleaning methods and shoveling tons of snow.

I had a great time learning the job, but my favorite part was interacting with the park guests and offering trail and activity suggestions. In that first appointment I became proficient in chainsaw operations and maintenance and snowmobile operations. I helped to streamline our SnoPark Pass bookkeeping system.

A man walks through the forest in a dusting of snow with a chainsaw on his back, facing away from the camera.
Park aides may use chainsaws in trail work and construction. Here, Rex carries a chainsaw on a trail in early spring at Mount Spokane.

A second career

That summer, I was promoted to Senior Park Aide and added campground and fire lookout processes, backhoe operations and still more chain-sawing to my resume. In that position, I was able to expand my knowledge of the park and pass information to our visitors, which enhanced their visits (and helped them find the best huckleberry patches). Over my time as a Park Aide, I experienced the graveyard shift in the Winter, driving the big Nordic snow grooming machine, got to use a plasma cutter, learned a little welding and conducted my first interpretive tour of the Gardner Cave at Crawford State Park 90 miles from Mount Spokane. Since then, I’ve led over 100 cave tours. Engaging with park visitors is by far the most rewarding part of the job, and guiding this tour is one of my favorite assignments.

We had so many great teams while I was a Park Aide at Mount Spokane. It was an honor to be a part of each one, and I learned something from everyone I worked with.

And while I was at Mount Spokane, I learned of (and was encouraged to apply for) a permanent position: Volunteer Program Coordinator for the Inland Northwest Area. I got it. 

(Editor's note: Rex was recently promoted again to community engagement coordinator for the Inland Northwest and Blue Mountain areas)

A man in a dark green Parks shirt poses with a group of young people.
Here Rex leads his first tour of Gardner Cave at Crawford State Park for an enthusiastic young audience.

Best poop tale

Well, since this is a Park Aide-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I failed to provide the obligatory poop story. At the Bald Knob Campground at Mount Spokane, we were tasked with locating the drain field for the septic system. (Apparently the map had been misplaced.) After locating and digging up the tank lid, my ranger colleague had the idea to put our heads in to look for the outlet. He held his cell phone camera while I rotated a strong flashlight around the inside the tank. I had not done that before… or since. It really emphasized that no two Park Aide days are alike. As unpleasant as it was, we pretty much laughed our way through it.

Two men, one in a park aide shirt and one in a ranger uniform, look down a hole in the ground to examine a septic system.
The infamous septic tank inspection. Rex is at top right.

There have been lots of different projects and events that I have been fortunate to be involved with and many wonderful people that I never would have met, had I not chosen to try a new path. In the header photo, for example, I was honored to help the Spokane Tribe with their salmon release at the Little Spokane River Natural Area. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Parks. I’m proud of this agency, and I love my job.

Washington State Parks is hiring more than 300 park aides across the state this season. If the job and its possible career paths sound interesting to you, read more and apply today!

Originally published March 01, 2024

See blogs also related to...