Today I was able to persuade Mr. Daniel Gambrell, Park Manager at Sesquicentennial State Park, to sit down for a CarolinaConsidered interview. Like his colleagues, Mr. Gambrell has a full calendar most days of the week. And that includes Saturdays and Sundays! [One of the less advantageous features of living right in the Park.] But he agreed this afternoon to take the time for a chat.
As usual, we began our conversation by asking Mr. Gambrell where he was born and raised. Turns out he hails from Easley, South Carolina, in the Upstate. A beautiful town not far from Greenville, with a population these days of nearly 18,000 people. Considerably larger than when Mr. Gambrell was growing up there. Listen to him describe his childhood in Easley. Nice to hear.
Folks write in from time to time asking how one becomes a park ranger. So I asked Mr. Gambrell to give us an explanation. These days to be competitive it seems that a four-year college or university degree with an emphasis on public resource management of some kind is a good idea. Mr. Gambrell went through the Clemson University Parks, Recreation, and Tourism program we described a couple of weeks back on this program. He minored in forestry. All useful background that helped to make him competitive in the Park Service.
Speaking of background and experience, Mr. Gambrell mentions the importance of internships. He did two at Devils Fork State Park on beautiful Lake Jocassee. [In another life I did a podcast from Devils Fork State Park and Lake Jocassee. Some photos and some details here.] It certainly is a beautiful place. And from there for three months at Edisto Beach State Park. Another beautiful spot.
Next, Mr. Gambrell describes his career in the Park Service up to his arrival here at Sesqui in early 2006. Having served at both Santee State Park on Lake Marion, and at Dreher Island on Lake Murray,
I asked Mr. Gambrell to compare the two lakes, thinking he would describe the challenges the lakes presented to the Park Rangers. But note how he responded. He frames his response from the perspective of the Park visitor, rather than from that of the Park employee or management. This is a good illustration, I think, of the degree to which South Carolina’s Park Service management is visitor-oriented.
I continued to press Mr. Gambrell to describe life as a South Carolina park ranger. The effect of transfers from park to park; the “typical day” [no day is typical!]; and the experience of living on the park with his family. Like several of his colleagues, he said becoming a South Carolina Park Ranger means adopting a way of life rather than simply entering a career. It must be true. I can’t imagine anyone doing this just to make a living.
I then asked Mr. Gambrell the question that all park managers avoid. Try to describe your Park in just a couple of sentences. Well, he tried. His emphasis, again, was the perspective of the visitor. Many of them, like me, who live nearby. Sesqui gives us an opportunity to enjoy near-wilderness surroundings with only a short drive. It is incredible.
Sesqui’s hiking and mountain biking trails are one of this Park’s most outstanding features. Mr. Gambrell said the Park maintains almost twelve miles of “designated trails.” The map above gives some idea of their configuration. For scale, keep in mind the lake you see in the center of the diamond-shaped green area above covers about 30 acres.
For me, one of the nicest trails is that circling the lake. About two miles, all well maintained, and easy to walk. Or to bike, if one is so inclined. Along the way you’ll find wooden benches strategically placed for those of us who wish to sit for a while to enjoy nature ….
Park Manager Gambrell was eager to talk about the visitors to his Park. So I asked him who visits and what do they do. He obviously keeps close track of that activity, and noted that local folks, like me, make up the majority of visitors during the week. But the proximity of two major interstate highways [I-77 and I-20] bring lots of folks in to use the campground for a night or two.
Also, he mentioned the popularity of Sesqui’s picnicking facilities. The shelters, tables, and cooking pits are busy most every weekend. With up to 1,000 picnickers on some weekends. Family reunions are popular here in South Carolina. BIG, extended family reunions. Some even sporting their own t-shirts! Sesqui’s a traditional spot for that.
Speaking of picnic shelters, Mr. Gambrell during our discussion often referred to the work of the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps, in creating the Park’s facilities during the 1930s. Here’s a short video where he describes that:
I asked Mr. Gambrell to describe his biggest challenge as the manager of Sesquicentennial State Park. Like some of his colleagues, he described that challenge as the need to balance the interests of Park visitors against the need to preserve the Park. No easy task! Every Park I’ve visited hopes to have more visitors. But increased visitorship means greater stress on the Park’s natural habitat. Protecting and preserving that habitat costs money. A sensitive subject during tight financial times.
Sesqui now is forming a private Friends of the Park group. An organization that will attract folks interested in supporting the Park through volunteer work, special projects, and even fundraising. They had their first meeting a week or so ago, and others are planned. Again, if you’re in the area, call the Park for dates and times!
Finally, I asked Mr. Gambrell about the old log cabin on the left-hand side of the road into the Park. Right near the new dog park. It has been under renovation/restoration for the past three years. One of the oldest buildings in Richland County, the original logs date from 1754. Not all of the logs are original, but many are. The cabin was moved here from near the Broad River, where it had been inhabited until the late 1950s. Listen to Mr. Gambrell’s description of the cabin, and of the Park’s plans for its display.
Thanks again to Park Manager Gambrell for his generous contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project. Don’t tell him, but I’m hoping to get him to give us a tour of that log cabin some time in the near future.