Guest Message -Mountain Regional Chief Adin Fell

Message From The Director

Many people who dream of a career as a park ranger always ask how to do it.  There is no straight path, and for every employee, there is a story of not only how they got to the park service but how they got to the position they are in.  This month, I want to continue to introduce you to members of our leadership team to share their journey to the park service and to the position they are in.  Adin Fell is our Mountain Region Chief and has worked in every region of the state.  Here is his story. -- Paul 

Hello, everyone! As Paul mentioned, no story is the same, and oftentimes the road we are taking has many turns.  My story is no different.  I may need an atlas to get through all of the roads, but here we go!

As a child, I grew up on a family farm in East Central Illinois, surrounded by woods and fields of corn and soybeans. My father never raised me to farm the land, he never wanted that for me.  He would say, “Farming is too unreliable”. I spent many days running around in the woods and wandering, as kids often do. I did camp as a kid, but not all of the time.  I was a member of scouting and often look back at many outdoor memories from those scouting days.

So how did I end up as the Mountain Regional Chief for South Carolina State Parks? Like so many kids, my first thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up was a police officer.  I soon went from wanting to be a police officer to wanting to be a horse-mounted police officer.  That idea persisted for a long time, but I started thinking about where this job could be found and the only place I came up with was the National Park Service. Again, this dream remained for a long time, until I realized that I had never ridden a horse and that job didn't make a lot of sense for me.  So, let’s ditch the horse and focus on being a park ranger.

I attended college at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) to work on my Forestry-Outdoor Recreation Management degree.  During a class one of the professors mentioned that to pursue this career you needed to begin working as soon as possible to gain experience, because people don’t get hired in parks unless they put in the effort and gain experience.  Running with that information, I applied for a summer, seasonal position at my local Illinois State Park and worked there for two summers doing all the grunt work: cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, mowing, weed eating and cleaning out the firepit.

Finally, after graduating from SIUC, I applied for many parks jobs in many different places.  I applied in Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio.....ranger jobs are difficult to find! People love these careers and finding an opening was difficult, at best. I interviewed with several of these states but never secured a position.  I needed to work, so I cold-called several tree-cutting companies near me to find a job that, while not ideal, would lend itself to the ranger career I wanted to pursue.  I landed a job making $8.00/hour cutting trees in an urban environment, not glamourous for a college graduate, but I did what I needed to at the time.

A friend of mine from college moved to South Carolina to work for South Carolina State Parks and landed a full-time job as a ranger with the South Carolina State Park Service.  He told me to put in an application for an assistant ranger position at Edisto Beach State Park that just vacated. I called and submitted my application. I will never forget this day. It was cold in Illinois that first week of February, snow on the ground and a stiff wind.  I was running limbs through a chipper and my flip phone rang.  I didn’t know the number, so I got very excited.  It was Edisto Beach calling to give me a phone interview.  I shut everything down, hopped in the dump truck and turned on the heat. After what seemed like a 30-minute conversation, which I’m sure was more like 10 minutes, they asked if I would accept the position of Assistant Ranger.  Obviously, I said YES! I worked the remainder of that day and at the end of the day, I told my boss that this was my final day and I was moving to South Carolina. I know, not a great way to end a job with no two-week notice, but I was ready to move on.

I came home that day, looked at my parents and said I was moving to South Carolina in a week.  I would imagine they were pretty shocked, but they didn’t seem too unnerved and just said "ok." I always knew that Illinois was not the right place for me.  I  always felt that I would move away one day.  We packed up my Ford Escort and I left on February 12, 2004.  After arriving in South Carolina, I stayed at my friend's house the night of the 12th and showed up at Edisto that afternoon.  I began working two days later.

I was on cloud nine, living in an old trailer and beginning my new job as an Assistant Park Ranger. While it was only a temporary job, with no benefits, it was exactly what I needed. The funny story here was that a couple of months after I started, another state park service called me back to reschedule an interview that was postponed due to a snowstorm in January. I already officially decided that South Carolina was going to be my home and declined the interview.

I stayed at Edisto for one year and three months and interviewed 12 times for several full-time park ranger positions before finally securing my first full-time position on interview number 13.  I moved to Dreher Island State Park and stayed there as a park ranger for approximately a year and six months.  After that, I interviewed six times for advancement before finally securing the senior ranger position at Hickory Knob State Resort Park on interview number seven. I worked at Hickory Knob for 11 months, where I met my future wife, and I continued to interview four more times before securing the Assistant Manager Position at Santee State Park on interview number five. I remained at Santee for approximately three years while continuing to interview for management positions.  I interviewed four times before securing the Park Manager position at Lake Wateree State Park.

Lake Wateree was a wonderful park full of great campers, great visitors and great friends. I got married while at Lake Wateree and thought there was nowhere else in the world I would move to.  Lake Wateree would be it and that was that.  Well, I was wrong! My regional chief and I had a great relationship and we always discussed future plans and goals.  He and I discussed where I wanted to go, and that I thought I would like his job when he retired in a couple of years.  He expressed to me that I would be unable to assume his job if I didn’t move on from Lake Wateree and pursue a larger park.  After discussing this with my wife, we decided that if it was what we were going to do, then we needed to do whatever it took to get there. Hickory Knob State Park manager was the step I needed to take. It took some convincing to get me to apply for this position, but after five years at Lake Wateree, I put in an application and decided to take a chance on myself and my career.

Hickory Knob was not a management position a lot of people usually have an interest in. It’s a big park with a golf course, hotels, cabins, campground, restaurant and another smaller satellite park, Baker Creek State Park. This park was not my immediate first choice, but I knew that if I wanted to become regional chief I would have to take this chance. The position was offered to me, and I accepted. I didn’t realize I would enjoy the park and the position as much as I did. I learned a great deal about areas of management that I had not experienced and was able to start making changes that I hope will continue to reap benefits for the park for years to come. The time came and three regional chief positions became available. I tried to learn and prepare myself for this opportunity, knowing that if I did not give my best to this interview I would be at Hickory Knob for the foreseeable future.

The interviews for the regional chief positions soon arrived, and I gave it my best. After what seemed like an agonizing two week wait, I received a call from our director.  I was offered the position as the Mountain Regional Chief. I gladly accepted and was overjoyed, as well as, accompanied by extreme fear, as I now had to find a home in an area of the state I had zero experience in.  My wife and I found a great house pretty quickly.  We moved, and three years later here we are with our first baby girl on the way!

I’ve loved every minute of my park service career, and I am so thankful for all the managers and co-workers I’ve spent time with and learned from. We have, arguably, the best park service in the nation and we continue to grow and expand and do things I wouldn’t have thought possible when I started 17 years ago. If I had gone to the parks and positions I THOUGHT I should have had, who knows if I would be in this regional position today. I went to parks I didn’t know if I would like and accepted positions not knowing what to expect. Would these parks be the right place for me?  Each position is what you make it, and each position has made me the person I am today, and for that, I’m extremely thankful. 

My road has been full of bumps, cracks, potholes and do-not-enter signs, but the right attitude and taking the road less traveled have all brought me to the right place, here and now.