-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
Did you know?
- All rangers and the superintendent live within the park. Billy’s house was built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and used to be the visitor’s center.
- Much of the park used to be bare, cleared farmland. Billy suggests reading Stories in Stone, a history of Umstead and the Cedar Fork Township community. Knowing the history will give you a deeper experience of the park.
- Yes, coyotes live in the park, but most people will never see them. They tend to steer clear of humans.
Suggestions for being a good park owner…
- Keep your dog on a leash. Many people are frightened of dogs. Being approached by dogs off leash is the number one complaint the staff hears. Rangers can and do give citations for dogs off leash. The fines and court costs can be upwards of $300.
- If a trail has been closed and rerouted, there is a good reason. Usually slopes have become too steep and unstable due to erosion. Please follow trail reroutes, and allow the old trail to recover.
- Respect park hours, and make sure you have enough time to complete your hike and return to your car before closing. The rangers have to deal with visitors in the park after hours as much as twice a week.
- Join the Umstead Coalition and support various initiatives.
- Volunteer to help maintain park trails and structures.
- Explore the park fully, appreciating all of the plant and wildlife it offers.