Friday, November 5, 2010

Interview with Ms. Stacey Jensen, Interpretive Ranger at Sesquicentennial State Park, South Carolina

01 jensen

South Carolina’s interpretive rangers represent an essential element in the relationship between our state parks and the public. There are only about 20 interpretive rangers in the whole system. So we’re fortunate to have one assigned full-time here at Sesqui. Ms. Stacey Jensen has been at Sesqui for about seven years now, and does a great job.

02 JensenWe began, as usual, by asking Ms. Jensen where she was born and raised. Her background, it turns out is somewhat unusual. In two respects. ClickToListenFirst, she’s from Manhattan, Kansas. Second, in contrast to nearly every other Park Service person I’ve met, she recalls little out-of-doors experience as a youngster. Only one camping trip during her childhood. Imagine that! 

Kansas StateStacey graduated from Kansas State University, where she majored in park management and conservation. Waiting until her junior year to declare that major. [Maybe that’s because of a lack of camping experience as a child….] After graduation, she arrived in South Carolina to join the Park Service. Arriving at Sesqui in 2003, where she’s been since.

Tuttle Creek SPMs. Jensen is yet another South Carolina park ranger to mention the importance of internships for her career development. In her case working three semesters through AmericaCorp at Tuttle Creek State Park in Kansas, near her home and university. I guess those considering a park service career should take advantage of any internship opportunities that come along.  

03 jensenI then asked Ms. Jensen to describe South Carolina’s interpretive ranger program for us. Her response was interesting. It involves teaching, of course. A successful interpretive ranger must be a good teacher. One able to teach children of all ages, as well as adults. But, as Stacey points out, teaching isn’t all of it. Interpretive rangers also must know something about PR. ClickToListenThat is, must be able to inspire visitors to care more about park resources. Have a listen to her explanation.

It’s always interesting to hear Park personnel describe their average work day. For Ms. Jensen, though, there’s no such thing! Each day is different, and it’s even hard to predict what will happen from one day to the next.

Like other interpretive rangers we’ve interviewed on this program, much of Ms. Jensen’s time is occupied by school group visits. Especially during the spring and fall. More than 2,500 individual students each year come by. So there’s lots of demand.

ClickToListenIn addition to those programs oriented toward school groups of various ages, Sesqui sponsors what Stacey called “public programs.” Designed to appeal to adults as well as children. 

04 jensenOne very popular public program is the “Owl Prowl” at Sesqui. Listen to Stacey describe her efforts to educate the public about the importance of owls here. Including a night hike to listen for owls, and maybe even see one.  Programs about bats too are popular. There’s a high demand for these “public programs” too. So participants must sign up in advance, and pay a modest [very modest!] fee.

ClickToListenInterpretive rangers, in my limited experience, have a somewhat different perspective than park managers. So I asked Ms. Jensen for her description of Sesqui. She described Sesqui as an “urban green space.” Surrounded on all sides by urban development. Yet isolated enough to give one the impression of hiking in wilderness once inside.

I’ve been visiting Sesqui for more than 20 years but never realized just how big it is. 1,400 acres is a lot of Park! Also, Sesqui’s location in the long, narrow ribbon of the sandhills provides ideal conditions for the growth of longleaf pine, and for the turkey oak we see as we crest the hill when driving in. And, of course, conditions vary considerably the closer one comes to the wetter area around the lake and Jackson Creek.

ClickToListenToward the end of our chat I asked Ms. Jensen about wildlife in the Park. She said that since this is an “urban green space” the wildlife here isn’t all that different from that homeowners find in their own back yards. More deer, of course. And more of other animals that tend to avoid people. 

The lake is the Park’s centerpiece. Much of it is shallow, though the original Jackson Creek creek bed in places is over ten feet deep. I didn’t realize how many different kinds of fish can be found there. Everything from largemouth bass to chain pickerel. No wonder so many folks come out to fish. Either from a boat or just from the bank.

Thanks again to Ms. Stacey Jensen, interpretive ranger at Sesquicentennial State Park in South Carolina, for your generous contribution of time and expertise. I hope to join one of your “owl prowls” one of these days.

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