The Park Service
Message From The Director
As park service men and women, when we talk about state parks, many iconic and scenic locations pop into people's minds. If you call South Carolina home, you may think of beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean, boats drifting in the morning mist while fishing on one of our lakes, a trail through a forest of fall colors or so many more. If you are lucky enough to be able to tell people you work for state parks, it is almost always followed by some version of the same conversation. It starts with an expression of awe and the declaration that, “you have the best job ever!” This conversation happens to parks employees around the nation --and I imagine the world. Even though people are right, our jobs are so much more than they can ever imagine or we can explain.
A career in parks is less of a job and more of a calling. Your passion and ideas of what it may be will draw you into it, but once there, if you get bitten by the “parks bug,” there is hardly a choice but to stay. You find yourself inescapably drawn to taking care of these places in the same way a teacher is drawn to protect and help their students. A career in parks becomes a way of life and imagining yourself doing anything else can be impossible.
As great as the job is, it is truly more than many can imagine. Coming up through the ranks, I have experienced the good and the bad. Now as Director, I get to hear about it all. Park employees wear many hats. They are town managers, law enforcement personnel, sanitation workers, wildlife extractionists, plumbers, visitor service experts and so much more every day. I see this on a regular basis, but I would like to share with you, some of what makes your South Carolina State Park employees such a special group.
Somewhere this morning, before most us were out of bed, a ranger (and we are all rangers), was opening park gates and operations to welcome their first visitors who want to enjoy morning exercise, a sunrise or an early start to a fishing trip. On a routine day, rangers clean every restroom, check every trash can and prepare shelters or rental facilities for family gatherings or weddings. Simultaneously, other rangers are getting the materials together to educate school kids stopping in for a program or loading supplies to prepare to speak and represent our department at a show. Our rangers are giving tours of historic homes, leading planned and impromptu hikes, getting cabins ready for guests and feeding the animals at the zoo or in the many interpretive displays. They give information to thousands of visitors during that day and lead paddling trips by moonlight. These dedicated people will cut the grass, clean the ditches to control rain, maintain dams and pick up trash in an effort to ensure the parks look good.
Sometimes they are required to put their first aid training to use. For some it will simply be to respond to a call and provide a band-aid and distraction to a small child who scraped a knee. Others may have to assist with a major injury, like providing CPR to a visitor who has had a heart attack.
Regardless of the time of year or temperature, rangers are repairing broken water lines, stopping leaks, fixing plumbing and replacing breakers or wiring. As a park ranger you will learn many skills, including how to replace water heaters, work an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), qualify with weapons, handle animals and operate all sorts of equipment from chainsaws and four wheelers to tractors and back hoes.
On any given day, a park ranger may be called on to quiet a rowdy cabin group or crowd, handle an upset customer, remove wildlife (like alligators, snakes or raccoons) from a heavy use area, assist with a rescue or retrieve a body from the water. In this career you will be asked to handle things that you never imagined or even wanted to, but you will also have incredible experiences. Experiences you cherish that most people will never understand, like a visitor encounter, time alone at your park, a special behind the scenes program or a visit to a place you never imagined you would go. You will make a new family and build new experiences.
So when people ask me what I do, I still tell them I’m a ranger for the South Carolina State Park Service. As our conversation ensues, they begin to dream about what an awesome job I have. Though I agree, I no longer see the visions of mountains, seas and trails. You see, I have come to understand something through the years. The statistics we share will tell you that we are made up of 47 parks with about 90,000 acres. We have places to see history and places to experience the best of the state, but what I have learned is that all of that acreage is just property with some buildings on it. What makes us great is not the “state park” part of our name but the "service" part of it. The South Carolina State Park Service is made up of about 280 full-time employees and over 600 additional seasonal employees. It is these heads, hearts and hands that complete our mission. It is the people who care for these places and who share them with our visitors that make the South Carolina State Park Service great.
So the next time you’re in a park, look around and see what makes that place special. Look at our historic grounds and houses, the beaches, trails and boat ramps. While there, use the facilities, attend a program, read a wayside or view wildlife, but remember that the state parks we all love are made possible because of the service of these employees and the generations that were called to serve before them. Thanks to all of them! I am humbled and honored to be one of them.