Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview with Mike Walker, Interpretive Ranger at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

Let’s suppose we were going to design the ideal interpretive ranger for one of South Carolina’s busy coastal State Parks. What would we include?

It would be nice to find someone who knows the area – ideally someone raised on the coastal salt marsh. A strong work ethic would be essential if our interpretive ranger was to survive in the Park Service. So we’d better find someone who’d held rigorous, hands-on part-time jobs throughout their high school and college years. Hopefully, nature-related jobs.

Then, since we can afford to be picky during this hypothetical exercise, let’s say we want someone with an undergraduate degree from Professor John Mark Dean’s intensive marine biology program at USC. Experience working in Professor Dean’s marine science lab would be an added attraction.

Unrealistic, you say? Well, that’s exactly the person I found a couple of weeks ago when I went to interview the Interpretive Ranger at Huntington Beach State Park. Click the button below to listen to Ranger Mike Walker tell of his own story.

[If your browser has difficulty displaying the embedded sound files below, direct links are included to all of them at the bottom of this page.]

We’ll hear more about Mike’s childhood camping experiences later on. But first he describes his Park Service Career.

Two of South Carolina’s coastal parks have similar names: “Hunting Island” and “Huntington Beach.” Well, similar to folks who have yet to visit them. In fact, first-time visitors sometimes make camping reservations at one of the two parks and then go to the other park to check in! Lots of confusion. Since Ranger Mike Walker has served at both Parks I asked him to describe their differences.

I’d recognized the difference in habitat, but didn’t realize that only Hunting Island is sub-tropical, and what that means for the plant life.

Speaking of habitat, when you visit Huntington Beach State Park be sure to save time for their Sandpiper Pond Hiking trail. If time permits, I’ll post a separate article on the trail and pond. But first, here’s Mike’s description:

Ranger Mike Walker and I talked late one afternoon at Huntington Beach’s beautiful nature center.

I asked him to describe the Center and its surroundings.

Alligators, sea turtles, 315 species of birds. Can you imagine! I’d heard of roseate spoonbills. But “Avocets” and “Parasitic Jaegers” were new to me.

They’ve all been seen at Huntington Beach. No wonder I often meet folks with binoculars, cameras, and bird books out on the causeway paths and boardwalks.

Mike’s Nature Center offers programs for visitors of all ages. From March to October each year that includes four “first come, first served” programs. Check the on-line schedule with a click here. And while you’re at it, click here for a PDF copy of the Park’s bird checklist. Most of them are free of charge!

Ranger Walker mentioned Huntington Beach’s involvement in Discover Carolina. This is a terrific state-wide program. And here’s a link to the Huntington Beach section. Those of you with fifth-grade children or grandchildren take special notice! School busses from at least 13 South Carolina counties regularly arrive here full of junior “discoverers.”


I then asked Ranger Mike Walker to describe the difference between natural and cultural resource management. Here’s his reply.

As you stand on the marsh boardwalk imagine wading around in the mud distributing shells for oyster bed restoration. Good heavens. And I thought dusting light house stairs was a tough job!

I sometimes hear from young people interested in becoming park rangers. Most of them have no idea how difficult the work would be, or how competitive the selection process has become.

At least in South Carolina. Here, Mike offers advice to career seekers, based on what he looks for when reviewing employment applications.

The key word seems to be “Volunteer.” Huntington Beach and most other South Carolina State Parks actively recruit and train volunteers. Folks interested might begin their search for volunteer opportunities on the website for the Park nearest to you. Here’s a link to the Huntington Beach Friends.

As usual, time passed by more quickly than I thought. Ranger Walker’s a natural teacher, and I learned a lot about his Park while sitting with him. Then near the end of our conversation he offered some thoughtful comments on the significance of our Parks to the lives of our children. Have a listen

All of us with children and grandchildren know exactly what he means.

Thanks again, Ranger Mike Walker, for your time and patience. A conversation with you will make my future visits to Huntington Beach State Park even more interesting.

Direct Links to Audio Files:

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