Park Manager Rob Achenberg

Park Service Profiles

It's Not a Career, But a Way of Life

If a fast food restaurant had given Rob Achenberg a job while he was still a high school student, he might never have discovered the joys of being a park ranger. As fate would have it, the restaurant didn’t hire Rob, but the Monmouth County Park System in Holmdel, NJ, where he was raised, did. It was a decision that would impact the rest of his life.

“I was hired to perform seasonal maintenance duties on the facilities and grounds. I knew right then that I loved working outdoors and I especially enjoyed watching families having fun together in a clean and safe environment that I helped provide,” Achenberg said.

Achenberg worked at the park during high school and during summer breaks from Clemson University, where he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.

He admits that while college preparation is important and required for some entry level jobs, for some positions – hands on experience is crucial. “When you’re a park ranger, you have a myriad of issues to deal with such as maintenance, natural resource and customer service. Experience in dealing with these issues is the key to being a successful ranger, he said.

It appears to have worked for Achenberg, who now has 19 plus years in the South Carolina State Parks System.

He began his career out of college as a Ranger I at McCalla State Natural Area on Lake Russell. He landed at Hickory Knob next as a Ranger II, and then it was on to Edisto Beach as a Senior Ranger. A promotion to Assistant Manager for Myrtle Beach took him to the Grand Strand and then back down the coast to Edisto Beach, this time as its Manager. He now serves as Manager at Oconee State Park.

At Oconee his duties include the overall operation of park operations and maintenance. “My administrative duties include tracking budgets, reporting and securing revenue, and processing expenditures. Maintenance details include inspections of park facilities and grounds, and planning long-term projects. I am also responsible for the protection of all the park’s natural, cultural and historic resources to ensure they are here for all park visitors to enjoy,” Achenberg said.

With a career that spans nearly two decades, Achenberg has seen it all. And while not exactly funny, he says it probably was one of the most unique things he’d ever seen.

While manager at Edisto Beach, a deer got caught in an outgoing tide while crossing a tidal creek and was being swept into the ocean.

“When we saw her, she already was tired, so we knew we had to do something quickly,” he said. “The deer was too afraid to swim to the beach due to the number of visitors. So, we first cleared the beach of all visitors and enlisted the help of a visitor in a sea kayak. He was able to herd the deer towards the beach. Once on shore, we tied her legs together, placed her on the back on a truck and transported her back to the maritime forest on the other side of the park. We placed her on the ground, carefully untied her legs and stepped back. She slowly got up and casually walked back into the woods as if nothing ever happened.”

While all the parks Achenberg has worked at have been fun, he’s particularly fond of Oconee.

“The beach parks were great, but since they are very busy year round, I didn’t get to enjoy the beach that much. At Oconee, while still busy, I do have the chance to get out and enjoy it, especially now that my daughters are at an age that they can enjoy it with me,” he said. Achenberg lives on the park with his wife, Carol, and daughters Haley, 13, and Jill age 11.

“I would recommend this job to anyone who loves working outdoors, enjoys helping the park visitor and is willing to work hard. This isn’t a nine-to-five job,” Achenberg said. “Being a park ranger requires a lot from you if you want to be successful, but you receive so much more in return. It’s not just a career, it’s a way of life, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Following this article, Achenberg was promoted to Chief of the Mountain Region which includes 11 state parks in South Carolina’s Upcountry. 

Since the initial publication of this article, Achenberg has retired from the South Carolina State Park Service.