Why You're Park Visitors, Not Park Guests

Message From The Director

"The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people." - Theodore Roosevelt

Thinking about growing up in rural South Carolina brings back great memories. Memories of riding bikes and playing untildark on a hot humid day, the sounds of crickets, tree frogs, and camping at Table Rock in the old campground, the smells of bacon and even the smell of coffee in the morning before I ever knew you should start your morning with it. Where I grew up, everyone in your community knew who your “momma and daddy” were and knew your middle name as they had heard your momma call you by your full name on more than one occasion! I also remember family and friends visiting on the weekends, unannounced but always welcome. To this day, I still tell family and friends to “come and see us” or “drop by sometime.”  A simpler time when you said come and see us and you really meant it.  

In the parks community, we often refer to the folks that visit a park as park visitors, not guests.  Why is that? Do we not want our rangers to treat each of you as guests? Is a visitor not as important as a guest? All great questions with a simple answer from this old park ranger.  It goes back to Teddy Roosevelt’s quote above: “The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people." He would further explain that the parks belong to the people. These special places that we call national, state and local parks really do belong to the people, park rangers are in fact only stewards of your resources. So simply put you are not really a guest but rather the owner of these places that we call parks. More importantly, you are family.  South Carolina’s State Parks belong to you, we just ask you to come and visit, to reconnect and to make some memories. 

Your parks are open every day of the year, just waiting for you to come, explore and check on more of your most treasured assets.  Much like coming home to visit, the welcome mat is always out and our pledge is to treat you like family. I recently “visited” Table Rock without the knowledge of the park staff. I wanted to recharge the batteries and take a walk down memory lane. We had just completed the renovations to the “old campground” which we now call the White Oaks campground.  The campground I camped in with my family now has a new comfort station, leveled sites with new utilities including 50-amp service. I am not sure what amp service we had when I camped there as a child, all I know is most nights were spent by the campfire with a Coleman lantern. Walking through the campground, I picked out our old site, close to the creek. The hill on the other side of the creek is a lot smaller than what I remembered and creek was not as big. Funny how time does that.  As I took it all in, the memories filled my mind of a simpler time. It was good to visit. 

I later ran into Poll Knowland, the Park Manager of Table Rock. I told him of my recent visit and he said, “I didn’t know you were coming!” “No,” I replied, “It wasn’t business, I was just visiting.” We talked of how the campground and the park had changed over the years but one thing remained the same, Table Rock is a special place cared for by special folks, a place for reflections, fun and memories. As I left the park Poll said, “Come back and see us soon.” I replied: “Count on it my friend,” as I left the sanctuary of my youth and traveled back to the reality of 2017. Ole T.R. was correct- parks belong to the people. Building on “America’s best idea,” state parks capture the very things that define our state: its resources, history and our ties to special places that leave us with distinct memories and connections. Visiting a state park is coming home to a place that is yours… you are more than a guest, you’re family and always welcome, no invitation needed.  

See you in the parks!