Thursday, February 2, 2012

Interview with Hunting Island State Park Manager, Mr. Jeff Atkins

Click here for the Table of Contents for this series

[If your browser has difficulty playing the embedded sound files below, scroll to the bottom of the page for direct links to those files on LibSyn.]

Mr. Jeff Atkins, Hunting Island State Park’s manager, sat down for a recorded interview during my last visit to the Park.

Jeff is a park manager’s park manager. Born and raised in Pumpkintown, South Carolina, he began his career at Table Rock State Park while still in high school. As a Park Service maintenance worker at the age of fifteen!

With a Table Rock State Park “education” under his belt, it was no surprise that Jeff chose to major in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management when he arrived at Clemson. It was a surprise that he was awarded one of the very few Park System scholarships to study there. Undoubtedly based in part on the quality of his work at Table Rock.

Click below to hear Mr. Atkins tell his own story:

Our conversation then moved to Mr. Atkins’ career in the Park Service. Including his climb through the ranks, with service at Huntington Beach, Lake Greenwood, Lake Hartwell, and Edisto Beach before arriving at Hunting Island six years ago.

In the last two posts he served as park manager. Also note Mr. Atkins’ description of the career of a park ranger, and what it takes to join that select group in South Carolina.

Mr. Atkins then went on to describe Hunting Island State Park. With emphasis on its diversity, including a great public beach, salt marshes, and the thick maritime forests characteristic of a barrier island.

I didn’t realize the Park maintained nine miles of hiking trails here. And, of course, the lighthouse: the symbol of Hunting Island State Park for many visitors.

This Park’s Friends group, Friends of Hunting Island, Inc.,  has to be one of the largest and most active in the whole State Park System. Mr. Atkins describes it here, emphasizing the importance of the “Friends” to the operation of the Park. The group has grown from fairly modest beginnings to over 700 families.

This huge park is heavily dependent on the volunteer work of the Friends, as well as that of scout groups, civic organizations, and unaffiliated individuals. Quite a record of achievement.

By now, time was running out. Mr. Atkins had appointments lined up for the rest of the morning. But I had to ask about one final point: Park funding.

For years I’ve been hearing rumors that Hunting Island is one of the few Parks in the State Park system that takes in more in usage fees than it spends in operational costs. That, in fact, it manages each year to run a healthy surplus. I asked Mr. Atkins about that, and about the economic impact of state parks on their surrounding communities. Here’s his response:

Thanks again, Jeff Atkins, for your generous allocation of time for this interview, and for the information you’ve given us about South Carolina’s state parks and the folks responsible for their operation.

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