Saying So Long

Message From The Director

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Isaac Newton

The time has come, time to pack up an office filled with files, pictures and memories from the last 37 summers. It’s been more emotional than I thought it would be. I have given South Carolina’s state parks so much, but have received so much more. It has been a high honor to serve as your State Park Director, to serve the state that I love so much, to be a part of a legacy of stewardship and service dating back to the time of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  If I have had any success, it is because of the park directors and park employees who served before me and with me.   During my tenure, I met people who would influence me, change my world and become family. I went from a new college graduate to career public servant. I became a husband, a father, a friend and an “old man.” That rather sums it up.  There is no life like that of a park ranger, and after 37 years my plans are to leave the way I started- as just an ol’ park ranger.

Next week I will spend my last day as State Park Director where I started my journey at Kings Mountain State Park.  I plan on mimicking, as much as possible, my first day back in 1982.  I’ll clean bathrooms, pick up trash and do a little weed eating! I also hope to talk to campers, visitors and work with an amazing state park team.  I remember that first day, Park Superintendent Lew Cato gave me a badge and instructions for a busy week ahead, saying, “You are a ranger now,” and the journey began. Lew and the rangers at Kings Mountain set the stage for the next 37 years.  Their work ethic, teamwork and sense of family, tradition and public service would influence me more than any of us knew at the time. To the Kings Mountain team of 1982, a tip of the ol’ campaign hat. Thank you. Through the years, so many people and places influenced me. There are too many to name here, but thank you. The list includes not only influential park rangers, District Superintendents and Park Directors but visitors as well. Many visitors have become friends, share a love for parks and people like I do and have truly made a difference in my career. 

Your state parks are amazing places, places where time stands still, where history lives, places where memories are made and nature inspires. You cannot separate the resource from the people- it is, in fact, what separates parks from all others: that interaction with people and the resources that we protect. State parks encourage visitors to interact with the resource and believe the principles that Freeman Tilden taught us: “Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.”  Indeed Mr. Tilden, indeed.

So many stories and experiences that I would love to share, but I’m out of time. I have been truly blessed. I have lived the dream and while I have many regrets, they just don’t seem to matter as much as I thought they would.  It is my hope that I have made a difference and prepared the next generation of park leaders to make South Carolina’s state parks even better.

As I prepare for the next chapter, I’m reminded of the opportunities each of us have. As a park ranger, I truly believe we have the opportunity in our profession to make life better and to affect not only this generation but also future generations.  Never take for granted your role in building a better community.  It was a magical summer at Kings Mountain State Park in 1982, we worked hard and played hard, special memories that I hold dear in my heart. I never dreamed that I would become the State Park Director of South Carolina.  I was too busy enjoying being a park ranger. There would be time for advancement later on, but time waits for no one and 37 years went by with a blink of an eye.  That’s it… time to start a new chapter and while thank you seems inadequate… thank you. I hope I have served you well.

I will end my column with a bit of advice from ol’ Ranger Phil: 

·         Focus on the journey, not the destination, joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it. 

·         Leave your mark; make a difference when you can.

·         And… take more pictures!

See you in the parks!