Ranger Leaola Smith
Park Service Profiles
The next time you visit Little Pee Dee State Park, be sure to be on the lookout for Ranger Leaola Smith! Ranger Leaola grew up in the small rural town of Brinson, which is located in southwest Georgia near the Florida/Alabama line. Growing up, Leaola spent most of her free time with her grandparents, who encouraged a great appreciation of the outdoors. They frequently went fishing the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers as well as had cookouts at local parks. “Parks always give me a sense of my childhood home and constant joy of simplicity and peacefulness of being outside,” she says. Leaola moved to South Carolina while she was still in high school before attending Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
Ranger Leaola began working part-time in the South Carolina State Park Service at Hunting Island State Park and later worked at Kings Mountain State Park during her last semester of college. During that time, she decided she wanted to be a park ranger. Leaola recalls a moment that sealed the deal for her: “I recall being on a ride along with park manager John Moon, and he said ‘as a park ranger you want to help care for your park with the eyes of a park visitor and an employee at the same time. Also, you want to enjoy yourself in the outdoors, because if not, this isn’t the career field for you.’” Ranger Leaola says Moon really put the career in perspective for her. She also says “it brings me a lot of personal joy seeing the happiness of families making memories and having a safe and fun place to do that. It has worked out since that one ride along, and having someone who has been in the career a long time just keeping it real.”
In 2020, Ranger Leaola got a full-time Off-Park Ranger position at Andrew Jackson State Park and recently promoted to Ranger II at Little Pee Dee State Park. Some of her regular duties include performing maintenance duties and being the park host coordinator and safety officer for the park.
Park rangers face unpredictable situations daily and must be quick thinkers. We asked Ranger Leaola to share a hard situation she had to deal with. “One of mine is a time I had a main waterline break on a booked campsite, and I was the only employee working that day. No other campsites were available and it was the weekend. I had to be quick on my feet and find the water cutoff to the campsite. I managed to fix it by myself by getting the tractor and digging a six-foot hole. Once the water line was found, I dove in and was covered in mud as I got it fixed. The day ended on a good note, and the campsite had running water within two hours.”
Along with difficult situations also come funny ones. Recently Leaola had the weekend off and had just rolled out of bed to a car honking in her driveway on the park. While she was still in her pajamas, a visitor appeared at her door who was wondering if the office was open, since there wasn’t a park truck parked there. Another fun memory she had was when she put together a Reading with a Ranger program with a local reading group called Cookies ‘n Books while she worked at Andrew Jackson. The program consisted of reading to children and giving donated books to the children to take home.
For someone interested in becoming a park ranger, Ranger Leaola suggests starting as a part-time employee to learn as much as you can. She also suggests contacting your local park to chat with park staff about the career.
Thank you Ranger Leaola for all of your hard work!
To see a glimpse of what a day is like for Ranger Leaola at Little Pee Dee, watch Episode 20 of our “A Day in the Life of a Park Ranger” series.
Considering a career in the South Carolina State Park Service? Click here to learn more and view our current full-time openings here!