By the time he was 8 years old, Gerry Allen had already chosen a career. “I wanted to be a National Park ranger. That’s all I wanted to do,” he recalls. When he got to Auburn University, he shaped his studies—a biology major and minors in forestry, outdoor recreation, and wildlife management—with the aim of becoming “the world’s greatest park ranger.” But he came of age during the Vietnam War, and rather than being drafted, he interrupted his studies for a four-year stint in the Coast Guard. By the time he finished college, he was married, and he and his wife, Linda, had welcomed the first of their two sons. Suddenly, becoming a ranger didn’t seem like the most responsible option.
“The Park Service is part of the government, and down low, there’s not much money,” Allen says. “Once the kids came along, I needed to take care of them.” It wasn’t just a matter of income; he wanted to give his kids a stable home base, and park rangers often serve in extreme locations. “Starting out, it would’ve been hard to provide what I wanted to out in the middle of Death Valley with plywood down on the floors.”