We Are Ready

Message From The Director

Every month since I became the state park director, I get a gentle reminder, sometimes more than one, from our State Park Marketing Coordinator to send in my contribution for the monthly newsletter. This tradition, passed down from director to director, comes with no other guidance than, write whatever you want. The first couple of newsletters were incredibly hard and intimidating, but since then I have enjoyed writing them more and more. For me it serves as a great way to share the gratitude I have for the people and places I get to work with every day, and as a means to highlight the parks. Usually, I have several ideas bouncing around in my head about park visits or programs I have attended. 

By every definition of the word, this month has been different. Believe it or not, my last visit to a park was March 27. Like many of you, I have been working from home and following the recommendations to minimize travel, so this month writing about inspirational visits just wasn’t an option.

As a 25-year park service employee and current director, the decision to close parks was difficult and emotional. I felt the weight of that decision because I knew part of our team, our family, would suddenly be without work. I heard daily the struggle our staff encountered, from those classified as high-risk still remaining on the front line, to others suddenly becoming primary caretakers for children no longer in school. The quickly changing circumstances created pressure and stress on everyone. Since there was no benchmark or previous experience to reference, our team made decisions, sometimes hourly, that will forever be difficult to measure. As with every difficult decision, it was met with both support and resistance. I didn’t know what I was expecting to happen when we closed the gates, but I can say assuredly that upon reflection, I was not optimistic about finding anything inspirational during this time. Thankfully, I was wrong.

As I write this, park gates have been closed for almost 30 days. Yet even with closed gates, this month has been full of inspiration. It is during strange times like these, that great leaders emerge and make the difference. However, leadership like this is hard and risky. What if the leadership you offer isn’t well received, or the direction you want to take is wrong? What if no one listens to your suggestions, or worse they do but no one follows? Making a conscious choice to lead is hard and certainly intimidating. On top of that, under the unique circumstances we faced, the easiest choice would have been to keep your head down and hope to come out the other side unscathed. Fortunately for all of us, the South Carolina State Park Service is loaded with leaders.

When people refer to leadership, it is often a reference to positions but leaderships is also an action. Anyone willing to take a risk can be a leader by their actions regardless of the position held. As soon as we shut down, our parks leaders stepped up in every way possible. Our interpreters and marketing team took to Facebook live and led the way to create engaging content. They planned programs, filmed, edited, coordinated and came up with incredibly fun suggestions for us to virtually engage with our visitors. We did campouts, park tours, wildlife viewings, cannon firings and so many more activities.  Check out many of these videos on our YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, our maintenance employees, whom everyday are on the front line taking care of visitors, faced a dramatic cut in their numbers. When we told we had no money to spend on special projects, instead of retreating and doing the minimum, they took charge. They coordinated with staff and used materials on hand to complete some overdue renovations like clearing dead trees in high use areas and painting facilities. As we looked for ways to open, they led the charge on creating innovative solutions to help us protect our staff and visitors. 

Our central office team, who was sent to work remotely, took decades of paper files, and while continuing to work diligently to support all of the field efforts, have been electronically organizing those files, a project needed for years. Watching leaders emerge this past month has been an almost daily occurrence.

Together, this group of leaders will face the daunting task of re-opening parks. Their patience, customer service, hard work and leadership are all going to be tested and stretched to the limits of their comfort zones. Experience tells us nothing about what to expect, for none of us nor anyone we can ask, has ever faced this. Simultaneously, this team will also be worried about their families and working through many of the same struggles as the rest of the country. As they face unpredictable challenges, they will have to quickly make difficult decisions. They will be doing their best to protect the well being of visitors and staff, while trying to provide safe places for people to get outdoors. 

There will be bumps on this road -- there always are -- and looking back, we may even see how we could have avoided some. But as we prepare to open, I am confident that we have a team full of leaders who will help us get through it. Thank you to all of my SCPRT family, present and past, as well as, the family we had to let go that I hope to see back soon; it is through the work of all of you that we have such a talented team. A team of leaders that are ready.