Park Manager Rick Smith
It's Not a Job, It's an Adventure
It’s 6:30 a.m. and Rick Smith, manager of Cheraw State Park
, is heading to the maintenance complex to check with the maintenance and golf course staff. Later he’ll help get golfers on the course at the pro shop or lead a canoe trip to the cypress swamp headwaters of Lake Juniper. It’s a busy life, but Smith knew at an early age he wanted a career in forestry or on the ocean. As fate would have it, he got to do it all.
Smith grew up in North Carolina “in the woods” much to his mom’s chagrin. After high school he traveled the world during a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy and Ready Reserves. “The sea is everything and the smell of the ocean is wonderful, but this Southern boy missed the smell of the swamps, forests and soils,” Smith said.
Returning home he earned a degree in Recreation Resources/Forestry from Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, NC, then transferred to East Carolina University. In 1981, Smith was hired at Lee State Park when know-how in maintenance, public relations and a natural resources background were key skills.
Three-Decade Career at SC State Parks
Smith rose from ranger to manager during a nearly three-decade career at seven parks where he’s seen it all. Like the early morning call from a camper at Edisto Beach State Park who arrived at the comfort station to find the shower already occupied by an alligator. Or, the call from a lady reporting a drunk snoring loudly under her camper. “We arrived to handle the ‘sleeping drunk’ only to find an alligator grunting at us. The look on the camper’s face when we told her was priceless,” Smith said. His fondest memories however are at Edisto Beach, a laid back family beach where he had the ocean and the forest, and Dreher Island where he watched his daughter grow from a tomboy into a young lady. Smith also worked at Croft, Santee and Baker Creek state parks.
Never-ending reports and a staff of 25 plus volunteers often times keep Smith tied to the desk but he tries to stay outside as much as possible. In addition to the golf course, pro shop with grill and cabins, the park has a tackle shop, cabins and a campground. Nature programs are offered and the park is a long leaf pine habitat for the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker.
Would Smith encourage others to become a park ranger? “Oh yes,” he replied. “Where else do you get paid to work and play outside, teach, meet people from all over the world and help them have a great experience? I love to introduce them to the outside world and have them say they really had a wonderful experience, especially the kids. It’s not a job, it’s an adventure.”
Since this story was written, Rick has retired from his position with the South Carolina State Park Service.