Interpretive Ranger Laura Kirk

Park Service Profiles

Laura Kirk didn’t have time to be squeamish about critters when she was growing up. She was too busy pulling blue crabs from the Chesapeake, looking for crayfish under rocks in West Virginia rivers and chasing frogs everywhere in between. Now all grown up, Kirk is an interpretive ranger at Lee State Park, where the Lynches River, its floodplain forest, wetlands boardwalk, sandhills and pine woods are a perfect laboratory for her to share her love and knowledge of nature with visitors of all ages.

Living life large as a park naturalist is something the Maryland native knew was her fate since her youngest days. “I grew up outside. My dad was a school teacher and in the summers we would camp a lot, or get up before dawn and head out to Chesapeake Bay to run trot lines for blue crabs,” she said.

Kirk said she remembers fondly “getting to watch the sun rise over the Chesapeake with my dad and brother or sitting by the Little River in Virginia while I was at summer camp, just watching the clouds go by.”

Formal training also was part of her preparation for her career; that, too, going back a ways.

“I remember researching being a park ranger in our middle school library,” Kirk said. She followed that up with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from Frostburg State University in her home state and a master’s degree in zoology from Southern Illinois University.

A professional in natural history, she also has developed her expertise and appreciation for American history in her six years with the South Carolina State Park Service.

“Our park was built in the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the original state parks in the system, and I’ve had the opportunity to hear about that first hand from visitors who were around here at the time,” she said. “I’m also enjoying working with Poinsett State Park as we help them work towards earning our parks another spot on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Visitors at Lee State Park are likely to encounter Kirk on her bicycle. A member of the State Park Service’s bike-mounted ranger team, she said she’s usually “only behind the wheel of a vehicle if it’s storming out or really cold.”

And, with her guidance, even the most timid can enjoy what for many are their first encounters with the natural world. “One day, a school group came to the park for a field study and a little girl, Anna, said she thought she’d like to just stay on the bus, because she’d never been in the woods before. Well, I had her stick by me all day in case she saw anything ‘scary’. Well, she soon forgot about all her fears and at the end of their trip, she told me, ‘Ranger Laura, I had so much fun! Can I come back?’

“Now, that makes a great day for a park ranger.’”