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What Inspires Staff to Work at Tennessee State Parks?

July 15, 2021  |  Permalink

Tennessee State Parks is celebrating Park and Recreation Professionals Day by sharing our staff's stories about what inspired them to work with Tennessee State Parks. These professionals play a vital and powerful role in protecting our treasured natural resources, building stronger communities, and enriching visitors' lives. Their dedication to connecting people with our parks motivates youth to explore a career in the outdoors and makes Tennessee a better place to live, work, and play.

Park Manager Veronica Greear

Veronica Greear

Park Manager | Norris Dam State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

As a child, I grew up exploring the woods and creek behind my house in Alabama. I have fond memories of fishing with my dad and hiking to some amazing fishing spots. In high school, I started volunteering at a local park where I worked with box turtles and did historic preservation. During my junior year of high school, I moved to Morgan County and spent time hiking the trails at Frozen Head. My father passed away soon after moving to Tennessee, and I found healing and respite in spending time outdoors. Since then, I have always had a connection with the natural world. I was fortunate to start my career at Radnor Lake and still remind myself how thankful I am to get paid to spend time in nature. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

I enjoy working in special places that are protected for their natural, cultural, and historical values. I am passionate about keeping our history alive and sharing my knowledge with others to continue the legacy of conservation. It is our job to protect these parks and be the voice of those who are no longer here. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with park visitors and being sparking a sense of wonder in children. Tennessee State Parks is like a family, and I'm thankful to serve amongst so many inspiring and talented individuals.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

It is important that you do something that you are passionate about. If you enjoy spending time in nature, foster that passion by visiting parks, attending ranger-led programs, and/or become a park steward by volunteering. That is the foundation to working with TN State Parks. The rest will fall into place with hard work and dedication. If you are fortunate enough to pursue a career in parks, never forget why you started and be a mentor to the next generation of park advocates.

 

Park Ranger Angelo Giansante at Hiwassee Ocoee State Park

Angelo Giansante

Park Manager 2 | Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic Rivers State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I fell in love with the outdoors through the Army. I saw my first glimpse of the unimpeded beauty of the night sky while in Iraq. It felt like God was literally within reach. When I came home from the service, all I could think about was the outdoors and exploring. My mom read an article about Rock Island. I went there and met Park Manager Joe Moore. He had actually watched me win the state championship in wrestling several years before. He took me under his wing, showed me waterfalls to jump off of, and caves to explore, and introduced me to like-minded adventurers. From there, he told me about becoming a seasonal interpretive ranger, and we were off to a lifelong career. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

The difference we get to make in the lives of others. Being a part of a person's experience expanding their world, making memories with their loved ones, and getting their first taste of true freedom. Inspiring our guests to take those adventures is a truly amazing gift. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

This is more than a job. To be done right, it needs to be a selfless pursuit. This career is about preserving Tennessee and helping to promote a better life and worldview. It's about loving your neighbors. 

 

Anne Marshall Director of Recreation Resources for Tennessee State Parks

Anne Marshall

Director of Recreation Resources | Parks and Conservation Bureau

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I grew up working in the parks and recreation department in my hometown. That inspired me to get a degree in parks and recreation at the University of Tennessee. During my college years, I spent two summers as a Seasonal Recreator at Fall Creek Falls. If the department would have had an opening for full-time recreation and event planner at the time, I would probably still be there! Programming was my passion. I have had an exciting and varied career in the field, but my heart is with Tennessee State Parks - always!

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

The comradery of the staff - working towards the same passion. We love Tennessee's outdoors, and it is a privilege to preserve, protect and program our resources so our visitors and citizens can become good stewards of our lands and state parks. Planning for and sharing our state parks is an honor!

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Follow your passion and your interests. Do some volunteer work or shadow a current employee to learn as much as you can about what they do. Choose an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university that allows you to earn the educational background that you desire. We are always looking for new "friends" and advocates, and there is always a way you can support Tennessee State Parks - and learn all we have to offer.

 

Park Ranger Robert Thomas at Booker T Washington State Park

Robert Thomas

Park Ranger | Booker T. Washington State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

After suffering a career-ending injury playing college football, I found a new passion, working with youth in Chattanooga. I was offered a summer job at Booker T. Washington State Park leading interpretive programs. The work allowed me to reconnect with the outdoors and use my skills as an educator. I immediately fell in love with the park and later accepted a full-time position as a Ranger.

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

Working with a staff that feels like family. We're all in it for the same reason—To give Tennesseans great outdoor experiences and keep them healthy. I love communicating with people and connecting them to all the opportunities we have available at the park.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Sit down with a park ranger and discuss the activities you want to do. You can go on a guided tour with the Ranger and they will teach you all about the park and the wildlife in Tennessee.

 

Park Manager Brad Halfacre at Edgar Evins State Park

Brad Halfacre

Park Manager 2 | Edgar Evins State Park 

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I grew up in Tennessee State Parks, and I'm now a second-generation Park Ranger/Manager. My father is a retired Park Ranger/ Manager from Edgar Evins State Park. From the age of three, all I can ever remember wanting to be was a park ranger, just like my father. After witnessing the passion he had for his career and helping people and wildlife, I wanted the same. I have a passion to help others and I love protecting or wonderful natural resources and educating our guests about them. I have always believed that if we can make the public fall in love with our resource they will want to protect it. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

All of the wonderful people I get to meet. I am a people person and I enjoy talking to our guests and learning about where they are from. I have met thousands of guests over my career, and the majority say every time, "you are doing the job that I have always wanted, a park ranger". I also enjoy the landscape of our wonderful park system. We have so many great features for all to enjoy and I still have to remind myself that I actually get paid to do this. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Listen to your 3-year-old self, and do what you love, if you work with passion your work never gets old. Tennessee state parks offer many different employment opportunities and career paths to follow. Go out and visit your local park, you just might find the career you have always been looking for. 

 

Tennessee State Parks Area 6 Manager Robin Peeler

Robin Peeler

Tennessee State Parks Area 6 Manager | TSP Park Operations

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I love all of nature and protecting our planet and its natural resources. After I finished college, where I studied Forestry and Wildlife, I came to Montgomery Bell State Park looking for work because it seemed "outdoorsy." I wanted a job outside in the fresh air and around trees, wildlife, and water. I was fortunate to be hired as a seasonal naturalist. Lucky me, that open door launched my career as a Park & Recreation professional!

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

My absolute favorite thing about working for TN State Parks is being outside, talking with park visitors, and sharing information about the park. I also love quiet time alone in parks when I can get it. Also truly rewarding is talking with staff to troubleshoot how to solve problems or improve our management of the parks. There are many challenges and I enjoy helping work through them while making our parks better!

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

I suggest getting familiar with parks as a user and becoming a volunteer. This will allow you to gain a better understanding of what the park(s) encompasses. I also suggest working part-time before you try to get full-time park employment to gain valuable experience. If you can't get part-time work in a TN State Park, working in another park system or conservation/hospitality-related field is also very beneficial. Honing your skills as a naturalist or historian is also a wonderful way to prepare yourself to work in the park and recreation field. Park work varies, so you have to be ready to get your hands dirty, as well as talk to people and share your enthusiasm about the parks. 

 

Park Ranger Jedidiah Hall at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

Jedidiah Hall 

Park Ranger | Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I grew up in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, and spent my weekends and summers in the woods and on the riverbanks of Henry Horton State Park. Without much money to travel, Henry Horton became my family's go-to summer destination. Growing up on the trails and swimming in the river made me fall in love with our state parks and being in the outdoors. When I got older and began working on my master's degree at MTSU, I had the goal of being a teacher. However, the summer after my first year, I was hired by Henry Horton State Park as a Seasonal Interpretive Recreator. That summer changed my life, and I decided to teach park visitors about Tennessee's history and natural resources. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

My favorite thing about working for state parks is witnessing the look in our visitor’s eyes when they connect with our state's natural or cultural resources. That "wow" moment makes all of the hard work worth it, and it makes me fall in love with our park system all over again. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Explore our parks when you can and find the thing that inspires you about the outdoors. Our parks preserve some of our state's most precious cultural and natural resources, and there is something for everyone to enjoy when looking for a diverse career. I would also tell them to get involved! Volunteer at your local park by picking up trash, helping with waterway clean-ups, and assisting with resource management projects. Then when they feel ready, they can begin to seek employment as interpreters, maintenance crew, or trail workers. 

 

Conservation Worker Darnell Graham at Edgar Evins State Park

Darnell Graham

Conservation Worker | Edgar Evins State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

Being outdoors, working with my hands, and enjoying nature.

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

Always learning something new and doing something different.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Get out and visit your local park to experience it for yourself. 

 

Park Secretary Robin Warwick at Big Ridge State Park

Robin Warwick

Secretary | Big Ridge State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

My life inspired me to work for Tennessee State Parks. My father, Bill Thompson, was a Tennessee State Park Ranger, and I was fortunate to grow up in seven of our wonderful parks. The journey began with Natchez Trace, then the following parks - Montgomery Bell, Pickett, Pickwick Landing, South Cumberland, Old Stone Fort, and Norris Dam State Park. Dad then went on to Fort Loudon State Park, where he retired with 30 years of service in the State Parks. My first summer job was at Cove Lake State Park as a Camper Check-in host. Other family members have also worked in parks, like my husband's grandfather, Ranger Fred Flatford, who worked at Big Ridge for 30 years. I feel I have come full circle and am home!

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

It's a joy to come to work and get to experience the beauty of nature every day. It's an even greater joy to share that with each of our visitors and become a part of the memories they are making.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Go for it! Working for parks offers so many benefits. The people you work with are great, and the visitors are too. To me, there is no better job! 

 

Tennessee State Parks Director of Operations Michael Robertson

Michael Robertson

Director of Operations | Tennessee State Parks

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

My experiences growing up and visiting Meeman Shelby State Park with family and friends began my inspiration of working with Tennessee State Parks. The inspiration grew when I worked as a Park Attendant at Meeman Shelby at the bicycle rental operation. It was there that I was able to interact with Park Rangers and Park Managers and learn more about all that Tennessee State Parks had to offer. I was able to work for two years as a Seasonal Interpreter / Recreator, which fostered in me a passion for Tennessee State Parks and its mission to preserve and protect unique examples of natural, cultural, and scenic areas while providing safe, quality outdoor experiences. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

My favorite thing about working at Tennessee State Parks is the connections that we build with the park visitors and the citizens of the state of Tennessee. We build those connections by sharing with our park visitors the wonders of these special places we call our state parks. We tell the stories of what makes Tennessee a special place to live, work and play.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Follow your passion. If you are doing the things that you love and have passion for, you will be successful and fulfilled in your career. Tennessee State Parks provides many opportunities and career paths that will allow individuals to follow their passion and work with a great team that shares a mission to preserve, protect, and share our Tennessee State Parks. 

 

Park Manager Alisha Odell at Reelfoot Lake State Park

Alisha O'Dell

Park Manager 2 | Reelfoot Lake State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I was inspired from an early age by hiking and fishing with my dad. We visited State and National Parks, which were local to our area. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

As a Tennessee Park Ranger working with wildlife such as Birds of Prey, leading programs with children and their parents was the highlight of my work week. Now, as the Park Manager of one of the most recognized state parks for educational programming and community outreach, I find my joy working on projects which affect our community. Such as creating exhibits and new events for our park visitors. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Visit your state and national parks, get involved, volunteer, and join a Friends Group!

 

Park Ranger Destiny Adcox at Tims Ford State Park

Destiny Adcox

Park Ranger | Tims Ford State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I always grew up outside and going to our local State Park. When I was a kid, Neil Weatherly and Travis Stover were our Park Rangers, and I have a few specific instances of each of them in my mind that inspired me to become a ranger. Neil would drive the tractor around the campground with the wagon, and you couldn't miss his bald head. Travis let me hold my first snake and made ice cream for us on the 4th of July, so I always thought their job was cool. As I got older, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Until I was a 3rd-year Seasonal Interpretative Recreator at Rock Island State Park, I still wasn't sure. That summer everything changed for me. I learned I love the medical aspect of the job and how many different tasks a park ranger could have. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

I love that every day is different. I enjoy knowing that I work alongside men and women across the state who I can call at any time for advice, resources, or just to blow off steam. I also love that I get to teach people about things that I care about or find interesting. I love educating people about snakes. Even visitors who come to the park with a fear of snakes often leave with a different perspective.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Go to college, get a degree, and never stop working on yourself and your skillset. Make yourself unique and well-rounded at the same time. 

 

Park Manager Chris Thurman at Bledsoe Creek State Park

Chris Thurman

Park Manager | Bledsoe Creek State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Seasonal Interpretive Recreator while going back to school to gain another degree. It was that summer of SIR work that fostered a sense of appreciation for what Tennessee State Parks had to offer and opened my eyes to several career opportunities. 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

I love working outdoors, and I enjoy engaging park visitors. I love building new structures and trail systems to further enhance the experience of the visitors who come to seek out our fantastic cultural, natural, and historical offerings within Tennessee State Parks.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

If you love working outdoors and enjoy serving the public, then there is a job for you within Tennessee State Parks. Follow your interests and passions, and you will be rewarded with a placement in the right park with the right fit.

 

Park Ranger Jeffery Sweeny at Rocky Fork State Park

Jeffrey Sweeney

Park Ranger | Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I started on my journey to becoming a park ranger back in 2007 when I took on my first internship with the Student Conservation Association in Maine at Baxter State Park. I then completed two additional internships. One in Idaho for the National Forest Service and one in the Smokey Mountains in East Tennessee. After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and completing my internships, I nearly gave up on parks. I worked in another industry until being hired full-time at Long Hunter State Park in 2018. I enjoyed Long Hunter, but I knew I wanted to be back in the mountains. When a ranger position came available at Rocky Fork, I didn't hesitate to apply. I am truly blessed to be at Rocky Fork. It's my favorite park in the system! 

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

I love telling my parks story! I will always tell any willing ear the story of Tennessee's greatest treasures. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Start with a good attitude and take every opportunity available, and you will be amazed at where you will land. Tennessee allowed me to make a career out of something I love to do. 

 

JC Johnsonius

JC Johnsonius

Park Ranger | Nathan Bedford Forest State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

As a college student, I had little idea what to expect from the real world. In March of my final semester, on a whim, I met with Regional Interpretive Specialist David Haggard and interviewed for an internship with TN State Parks. My first year as a seasonal ranger gave me the opportunity to meet so many larger-than-life characters within state parks. Rangers like Marty Silver, John Froeschauer, Stewart Carroll, Chief Petty, Angelo Giasante, Neil Weatherly, & Aaron Schapley were superheroes - instant inspiration for a young man who loved the outdoors. Spending a summer exploring the rich landscape and cultural heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park sealed the deal. I knew by the end of the summer that I was destined to become a ranger.

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

Uniting people with the things that I love in nature and watching their eyes light up is my favorite part of this job and it never loses its appeal.

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

Never stop trying and never stop learning. There are many paths to become a TSP employee and every position offers many rewards. Seek out the one that is right for you and do all that you can to gain the education and experience needed to be the best.

 

Park Manager Jerry Wooten at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

Jerry Wooten

Park Manager | Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

What experiences inspired you to work with Tennessee State Parks?

I was inspired to work for Tennessee State Parks because of the park ranger uniform. Our park uniform is admired and respected by other state park systems and by park visitors from around the world who come to experience Tennessee's expansive cultural history and fantastic nature. Since 1937, our "Smokey the Bear" hat symbolizes Tennessee State Parks' long tradition similar to that of the National Park Service. Together with our tan and green dress uniform and colorful patch, I was attracted immediately to the professional imagery it represents.

I was also inspired by having a forum with Tennessee State Parks to express my interests in history outside of university academia and the ability to share my learned knowledge with park visitors.

What is your favorite thing about working with Tennessee State Parks?

My favorite thing is having the ability to conduct interpretive programs and provide facts to park visitors about our state's significant cultural and natural history. I also enjoy meeting visitors from around the world, hearing interesting anecdotes about their part of the country or world they are from, and most of all, reciprocating facts about Tennessee. 

What advice would you give to someone that shows interest in working with Tennessee State Parks?

My first advice would be to develop a strong interest and read everything available about Tennessee's natural environment. Secondly, learn the basic facts about Tennessee's history. Select a college major in something that gives you personal enjoyment, such as botany, forestry, history, fisheries, and wildlife management. It's also important to develop solid interpersonal skills such as public speaking, program delivery to large groups, excellent listening skills, and comfort with keeping consistent direct eye contact. 
 

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