-by Arianne Hemlein
When Umstead Park Ranger Billy Drakeford was a child, he loved being in the woods. He couldn’t have imagined a better job than one in park service, and that hasn’t changed one bit.
The fact is, there is no “typical” day. While each ranger is responsible for different facilities and focuses on different areas of park service, some general responsibilities include education and outreach to schools through program offerings, trail maintenance, light law enforcement, medical response, and keeping abreast of the plants and animals (including non-native invasive species). The lack of a steady routine is one of the positive aspects of the job in Billy’s opinion.
Getting kids and adults excited about nature is another perk. Billy feels strongly about the importance of allowing kids to play in the great outdoors, getting muddy in the streams, identifying plants, and searching for animal tracks. He says, “You can’t expect kids to care about the environment unless they get that connection as a kid.” Not only will they learn to care about and protect wilderness areas, but nature will give back to them as well. If you are interested in the benefits of exposure to nature, he suggests reading, Last Child in the Woods.
Maybe your child is interested in becoming a park ranger. The Junior Ranger program may be for them. Billy urges kids to attend one of the educational programs offered by the park staff. They can even earn a badge by participating.
If you have always harbored a secret dream of being a ranger, as I did, Billy says a degree in the biological sciences is preferred, but not required. A familiarity with tractors, chainsaws, and basic tool use is important, along with excellent interpersonal skills for positive interactions with park visitors and program facilitation.
If you just love spending time in the park, you can get a taste of ranger work by participating in ongoing volunteer opportunities with the park staff or with the Umstead Coalition. You can help to build a trail, for example, and feel a pride of ownership next time you take a hike.
“This park is your big, beautiful backyard,” Billy says. Bring your kids out to play and encourage their love and appreciation of nature. After all, they will be the future stewards of this park.
Park Ranger Billy’s Interesting Facts and Suggestions for Visitors
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Suggestions for being a good park owner…
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