Guest Message- Regional Chief Joy Raintree

Message From The Director

Paul’s intro:  This month as we all find ways to connect and celebrate Thanksgiving, I am reminded how fortunate I am to work with such an incredible team.  From the mountains to the sea, we have employees working every day of the year to make our state parks the best they can be.  The leadership team I get to work with every day is incredible; and their passion and drive, continue to make great things happen.  Four of those leaders, the Regional Chiefs, directly oversee the parks in their respective region and help manage our resources, oversee hiring practices, customer service and so much more.  This month I have asked one of them, Joy Raintree, the Sandhills Regional Chief, to share her story. 

I’ve always felt like my park service career “genesis” story was a unique one. While that may or may not be true, it is my story, so let’s go with it!  I like to think that I came into the park service through the “back door.”  I did not have a degree in parks and recreation or in the natural sciences.  Even though I didn’t intern with the forestry commission or work as a seasonal employee with National Park Service (NPS), I did dabble in NPS one summer as a member of the Youth Conservation Corps, but I never really saw that experience as career worthy. 

I grew up in a single-parent household with a younger brother and not a lot of expendable income.  Although we didn’t have central air (gasp) or a VCR for most of my childhood, we did have mountains, trails and streams.  We lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the base of the Peaks of Otter, and my mom would load us up in the car and take us hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway almost every weekend.  Tripping along through streams, getting in trouble for picking a wildflower, throwing rocks at my brother, picnicking and complaining on hikes was how I spent my time growing up. That’s probably how you imagine most park rangers begin their journey.  I have no doubt that those experiences greatly contributed to my love of nature and the outdoors. 

While my childhood was spent in the great outdoors, my early adulthood was spent in academia acquiring a Bachelor of Science in anthropology with a minor in geology (there goes the old outdoors creeping in again) and a master’s degree in public history.  Oddly enough, it was that advanced degree that landed me in parks.  In 2002, I started a job as Park Interpreter at Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site in Beech Island, South Carolina, a job I planned to stay in for a maximum of five years.   What I thought would be a “typical museum job” at first glance, turned out to be anything but.  Don’t get me wrong, I gave lots of tours to the public and led field trips for students, but I also ended up working with an incredible artifact collection and helped create some really cool exhibits.  I had many wonderfully, difficult conversations with visitors seeking the truth about antebellum plantation life, while simultaneously being exposed to (and elbow-deep in) water leaks, bushhog repairs, grass cutting (lots and lots and lots of grass cutting), chainsawing, wrangling stray dogs and relocating venomous snakes.  And, boy, was it fun! As a matter of fact, I thought it couldn’t get any more fun until I took the role of Park Manager two years later.  It is difficult to describe how atypical a day on a park is and how exciting it is to know that no two days will be the same and that your attitude affects 100% of how a day will go.

I had the pleasure of working at Redcliffe for 16 years while helping grow an outstanding team and expanding the interpretation and preservation of that site.  I’m not gonna lie, I was worried about leaving a place and position that I loved so much in order to take on my current role as Regional Chief of the Sandhills Region.  I recently told a new employee that in park life, you find your true self.  Each job and experience reveals more about who you are, what you can handle and about who you want to become.  In my current position, I’m finding that is still true.  I travel all over the Sandhills of South Carolina, talking with and listening to employees, looking at projects, troubleshooting issues and providing support to park managers who have one of the most difficult jobs - balancing the care and access to incredible resources, both cultural and natural.  I have a myriad of roles in this job, dealing with everything from finances to maintenance, operations, resources and beyond.  But in the end, the most important piece to me is helping to develop park employees and their sense of accomplishment, their connections with staff and ultimately the connections to the resources they manage. 

I have been fortunate over the course of my career to be surrounded by life-long learners. Learners who push me to ask questions, think about different perspectives and try new things.  Those goals have made me a better person and a better employee, allowing me to see the potential and experience the magnificence in parks.  For me, whether I am experiencing a park as a visitor or an employee, that experience shapes and defines me like no other.  That five-year plan I had for that first park job sure did seem ambitious at the time, but man am I glad to have stuck around for the 13 years that followed! So as this Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded how thankful I am for the people and the places that have brought me to where I am today.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Joy Raintree, Sandhills Regional Chief