Find Your Moment

Message From The Director

This July, two exemplary South Carolina State Park rangers will be retiring.  Park Managers Kevin Evans (Devils Fork State Park) and Susan Spell (Santee State Park) will hang up their ranger hats and move onto the next chapters of their lives.  For many, myself included, imagining a park service without these two somehow feels less.  How can we fill their shoes, and when we do, how do we find new rangers that embody the best that these two managers exemplified through their careers?  As they leave, taking with them years of experience, those still here may have a sense of anxiety and fear, but also excitement about what comes next.  One question that truly needs answering as we move forward is, what made these two so successful and how do we find people with those same qualities? It is a challenge we must continually confront.

If you spend enough time as a park ranger, people begin asking you to talk to younger people they know about how to become a ranger.  For most, it is easy to talk to these aspiring rangers about the process of getting into the field. We can easily tell them what degrees to pursue, how to volunteer and where to look for job postings.  It becomes infinitely harder when we attempt to explain what makes a good park ranger and how to tell if someone is going to be a good fit for the job.  Like many jobs, a strong work ethic, good customer service skills and personal motivation are essential to succeed. These skills will help regardless of your chosen career; however, there is more needed if you want to be successful on a park team.  Those qualities are hard to define and explain to someone, and as a hiring manager, discerning them in a potential employee is perhaps, even harder.

When I am asked, the first thing I usually tell people about being a ranger is that while I believe it’s one of the best jobs in the world, it is also one of the most misunderstood jobs.  The ranger image (a hat and badge greeting visitors, sharing stories and information about the resource) is what leads many people to the field.  Imagine this for a moment, working in unique and beautiful locations, teaching visitors about the site and giving them tips on how to enjoy their visit…what’s not to love?  This Norman Rockwell-like imagery draws in many and it is certainly one of the best parts of a park rangers’ job; however, it is not the largest part.  If you think this may be the career for you, then you should know about the part of the job most people never see.  The part where the park team is up long before visitors arrive, cleaning restrooms and facilities, ensuring gates and retail operations are ready to open, handling staffing issues and confirming reservations.  Or maybe it’s later in the day when they are asking unruly guests to respect the park, the wildlife and other visitors. This could mean telling them to put dogs on a leash or turn down their music. It may even mean you have to ask someone to leave the park.  A lot of your day as part of a park team will not be what you envision, so you need to be prepared for that.  But then I tell them, if this job is for you, you will know pretty quickly and there will be nothing more you ever want to do. 

I recently read a portion of a new employee training manual for another company that said something like this:

Our employees need to be their true, authentic self, and their personal passions should enhance their job and improve our customer experience if we expect to give the world-class service our customers deserve.  It is not sustainable for you to have to put on a mask and be someone else every day you come to work.

When I read this, it struck me that not only is this relevant to the success of a five-star resort, it is also the key to being a happy, successful park employee.  When you bring your passion to work, it can enhance not only the employee's job satisfaction, but will result in better customer service.  I saw this in action on a recent trip to Caesars Head State Park.  The park celebrated the installation of a new radio telemetry monitoring system that is part of a network tracking migrating birds.  For park geeks like most of us are, it is an incredibly cool project!  There were dignitaries from several groups there to celebrate.  But it was the tour of the overlook and bird walk led by Park Interpreter Tim Lee afterward, that drove home the point about passionate employees.

Over the past year, Tim has spent a lot of time doing resource management work on the park but has not been in front of the thousands of students he usually sees.  After the hike, he admitted a few nerves were present as he started with the in-person program.  Despite what he said, the nerves were not what I nor the 30 or so guests saw that day.  On that short walk you learned one thing for certain, Tim Lee loves the Mountain Bridge Wilderness and all that it has to offer.  As he pointed out birds, told stories of sightings and explained the climate and plant species, he had both experienced birders and neophytes enthralled.  His passion was infectious and the entire audience fed off of it.  He was in his happy place and he brought us there with him. His passion, not his job, became ours and in that moment.  I dare say there are very few places or things Tim would have rather been doing.  Tim was not wearing a “mask” for work, he was being his true self and sharing it with us.  It is one of many special moments I cherish while visiting parks, seeing these amazing people exemplify the best of what we can be.

It is the moment, when what you love doing and what you do collide, that makes a park career so special.  It is perhaps cliché to say that time and a career fly by, but I am guessing Kevin and Susan would agree.  So, for those starting and wondering what it takes to make a career, I think it safe to say it only takes a moment.  That moment may be the first time you help someone set up a tent on their site or rescue someone from a trail.  It could be when that kid you spoke to in the campground finds you to say goodbye and get a picture with you.  It will be different for every person who makes a career of this, but there will be a moment. A moment that helps you realize why you love this job.

So, as we give a tip of the campaign hat to Kevin, Susan and all those that have come before, remember to relish the moment.  Take joy and pleasure in the help you are providing others, the experiences you are creating and the resources you are protecting.  Make the most of every opportunity to share your passion and bring others along for the ride-- even if just for a moment.  I will see you in a moment.