Interpretive Ranger Mike Walker
Park Service Profiles
A Day in the Life
On his drive into work, Mike Walker passes just about every species of wading bird you can find in South Carolina. From endangered wood storks and roseate spoonbills to the occasional mink or alligator meandering across the road, it’s all part of a normal day for this ranger.
After occupying various positions with the South Carolina State Park system in the 90s, Mike is currently an interpretive ranger for Huntington Beach State Park on Murrells Inlet. However, his connection with nature began long before then.
Growing up in Beaufort and St. Helena Island, Mike spent countless summers with his father traveling through state and national parks across the country in a makeshift camper, a school bus they bought at an auction. It was those road trips that would later inspire the direction of his career.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science, Mike went on to work a number of interesting jobs. From sea turtle nest protection on Pritchard’s Island and a year at the Aquarium Reptile Complex at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia to jobs at both Myrtle Beach and Hunting Island State Parks, Mike gathered a wealth of experience working with animals and natural environments. While at Hunting Island, he even got a little acting experience playing the role of Ranger Mike on the Nickelodeon TV series called “Gullah Gullah Island.”
Now at Huntington Beach, Mike manages the Education Center staff and a number of volunteers from the Friends of Huntington Beach State Park. He and his group design and maintain interpretive signage while also conducting a variety of Coastal Exploration and standards-based Discovery Carolina programs on topics like seine netting, birding, crabbing, kayaking, snakes, seashells, marine invertebrates, sea turtles, salt marsh ecosystems, fiddler crab populations and the Great Depression. In addition, Mike is also responsible for resource management projects such as monitoring the park for invasive species, assisting with oyster and wetland restoration, protecting loggerhead sea turtles with predator exclosures and shielding shorebird nests with a solar powered electric fence.
While working with people and animals in an outdoor setting, Mike occasionally runs into some pretty unusual situations. Once he rushed to help a woman who thought she was trying to help an injured dolphin, only to discover her wading through the water with both arms around a very ill shark that was as big as she was.
“The diversity of habitats and wildlife in a fairly compact area make Huntington Beach State Park something truly extraordinary,” says Mike. “As I have heard some of our visitors say, you expect the unexpected here!”
Mike sees his job as a way to help people forge connections with natural resources. But he can’t do it alone. The hardest thing he has to deal with is apathy.
“Every week I hear comments from visitors who have seen someone else doing something like littering, feeding an alligator or letting their dog run through a protected nesting area,” says Mike. “Protecting our natural resources is everyone’s responsibility.”
Another problem he battles every day is what he refers to as “Nature Deficit Disorder.” With so many competing factors out there like the internet, TV and video games, he fears many people have lost their connection with nature.
“It can be a big problem, because at the end of the day, people support what they cherish,” says Mike. “What happens if people no longer value nature and the outdoors?”
Mike’s continuous pursuit of preserving and promoting South Carolina’s natural resources has led to the most satisfying career he could ask for. Would he recommend his path to someone else?
“Absolutely,” he said, “It’s the best job in the world.”