Leaders from across the Division of Parks and Recreation hosted a banquet at the annual State Parks Conference of Superintendents in January to recognize colleagues for their heroism, creative programs, outstanding projects, and exemplary service. While several inches of snow blanketed Haw River State Park, the Conference of Superintendents soldiered on to celebrate outstanding work of colleagues across the state. The awards described below include those awarded to volunteers and supporters of our state park system as well as staff.
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
- Division of Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Don Reuter was presented with this award for his dedication and service in organizing and managing the 2017 Association of Southeastern State Parks Directors Conference in Winston-Salem, N.C.. Don’s leadership was instrumental last fall when the division welcomed over 110 state parks leaders from 12 southeastern states as well as vendors from all over the country. Don brought the right resources together with venues and partners in the face of several obstacles. He delivered an outstanding conference that set the bar for excellence for years to come.
- Park Ranger Jeff Davis saw a need at Carolina Beach State Park and took interest in growing and improving the park’s trail system. Jeff is still leading Carolina Beach State Park in innovative trail development 25 years later. He pioneered the development of one of the first Fitness Trails in our park system. In the past two years, Jeff’s leadership led to the completion of two new trail projects including extending and refurbishing Snow’s Cut Trail and the development of Sand Live Oak Trail.
- Fall of 2016 brought a fire season to western North Carolina unlike any other in recorded history. The season included the Chestnut Knob fire that burned at South Mountains State Park for a full month, damaging 6,435 acres. Superintendent Jonathan Griffith managed the limited firefighting resources in the area by working every day for three weeks and over 300 hours through the course of the fire. Supported by tireless staff and volunteers from the park and surrounding areas,Jonathan managed an incredibly challenging fire from start to finish.
- Rangers Jessica Phillips and Crystal Lloyd went above and beyond their normal duties to create the “Ask a Ranger” podcast that promotes the division’s work. The rangers reached out to staff across the park system for interviews, expertise, and anecdotes, creating the first few podcasts to engage people who either can’t visit the park or are interested in more information after a trip to one of our parks. The podcast digs in to ecology, history, folklore, art, and culture in the parks, providing listeners with a behind-the-scenes look at all our parks have to offer.
- The total solar eclipse event at Gorges State Park would not have come to fruition without the creativity, hard work and dedication of Bob Andrews, Miki Andrews, Patricia Riddle, Cliff Arrington, and Sharon Becker. Patricia and Cliff planned logistics for the event on top of every day park operations. Bob and Miki Andrews volunteered 336 hours during August alone to prepare for the eclipse events at the park. Working together, Bob, Miki, Patricia and Cliff brought in exhibitors, programs, food trucks, and music while ensuring the space and facilities needed would be available to accommodate all parties and several thousand visitors. Regional Interpretation and Education Specialist Sharon Becker curated eclipse-themed educational activities for visitors which were a big hit with children and full-grown visitors alike.
- Following his 30-year career as a district Interpretation and Education Specialist, Data Manager Tom Howard returned to manage data and develop databases, particularly the Natural Resources Inventory Database, which documents every living thing in every North Carolina State Park. Tom has created a logical, effective database that documents critical information that will help protect our parks’ natural resources.
NATURAL RESOURCE PARK OF THE YEAR
Natural resource work often takes years to plan and implement. Under the supervision of Bill Meyer, Stone Mountain State Park has introduced regular prescribed fire to the park and executed a 611-acre fire in some of the most popular areas of the park. The park’s fire program represents the biggest improvement in a fire program in the mountain region and possibly the entire system. The park’s natural resource management program has also taken on several major invasive species eradication projects with the focused work of Ranger Michael Wood. In the last year, the park also managed to successfully execute a daunting stream restoration project last year in a popular trout stream.
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
- Hanging Rock State Park was selected for a Special Achievement Award honoring its Excellence in Interpretation this year. The park offered 457 programs reaching 8,660 people in 2017. The passion for Hanging Rock that Robin, Jason, and their team shared with over 100 guests during the Association of Southeastern State Parks Directors Conference in October was inspiring. The park’s outstanding rangers offer natural resources presentations like What’s Buggin’ Our Hemlocks, they connect programs with an annual theme like Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave, and offer cultural history programs about the Saura Indians and the history of the Mineral Springs on the property. Through innovative art and nature partnerships with community groups, they routinely pursue new and innovative events. Last fall, a theater troop performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in the park, which was performed along a trail.
- This year, Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve was selected for this award to honor its Excellence in Education. The staff of the nature preserve including maintenance mechanics, rangers, the superintendent, and seasonal staff brought their diverse skillset together to turn an old, dark room with outdated and minimally interactive displays into a bright, sprawling learning center where rangers and students can interact. Young visitors now leave the park with the greatest impression and education possible. A reading nook, state-of-the-art video microscope, puppet theater, interchangeable display cases, and an hand-made tables in a multi-use activity area revitalized this space at a huge cost savings–all thanks to the hard work, vision, and dedication of staff.
LOCKE CRAIG AWARDS
- Mr. Everett Davis served as secretary of Lumber River State Park’s park advisory committee (PAC) for 26 years. During this time and even prior to the creation of the PAC, he was active in the protection of the Lumber River and served on the Lumber River Basin Committee. Mr. Davis was instrumental in the major events in the park’s formation and history since then, including the creation of its master plan, opening the facilities at Princess Ann and Chalk Banks accesses, and the creation of the Friends of Lumber River State Park. His wisdom was unmatched in moving the park forward through the years.
- Colloquially known as the “Falls Lake Angels,” Sandie Rigsbee and Susan Dellinger have volunteered with the Division of Parks and Recreation for 10 years. Visiting the park three to five days per week for hours at a time, they collect trash as they walk through the park. They have assisted park staff with cleanup of swim beaches, hiking trails, picnic areas, parking lots, and roadways. They have also collected materials that floated away during flooding including landscape materials and signage. They have cultivated and maintained great relationships with park staff but seek no recognition for their hard work.
- The Friends of Sauratown Mountains’s Volunteer Trail Crew constructed the Pilot Creek Trail at Pilot Mountain State Park with a group of rangers. Renting a mini-excavator with their friends’ funds, they constructed the 3.5-mile trail in 59 days through rain, sleet, snow and Christmas Day. This work saved the park over $73,000 in contracted work and fulfilled a dream for visitors and park staff alike with the new trail.
- On July 24, 2016, Richard Goad and his son William were fishing near the Alder Trail at Lake Norman State Park when they heard a commotion. Mr. Goad understood that there were people in distress in the water and sprinted over 100 yards to help. That day, Mr. Goad dialed 911 before entering the water to retrieve a 5-year-old boy. Mr. Goad performed CPR on him until he was breathing on his own. Returning to the water to retrieve another swimmer, Goad was able to bring her to shore and perform CPR until a trained bystander arrived.
- On May 15, 2017 Ranger Patrick Amico risked his own safety to retrieve three people from rip currents off the beach at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. In two separate incidents. Ranger Amico entered the ocean in dangerous conditions and proceeded at least 50 yards off shore before reaching the people in distress. His incredible demonstration of selflessness and bravery was most deserving of this award.
PARK COMMENDATION AWARDS
- On May 20, 2017, rangers Leigh Ann Angle and James Rusher responded to a call about a visitor with symptoms cardiac arrest at South Mountains State Park. They assisted the patient with supplemental oxygen and performed CPR on the patient according to protocol. Angle and Rusher prepared the AED. CPR was stopped as the patient began showing signs of life. The patient was transported to the hospital and was released later that day. These rangers displayed calm and professionalism while applying their training effectively in a stressful situation.
- On March 24, 2017, Ranger Brandy Belville was the first responder to a call about an apparent heart attack at her neighbor’s house near Elk Knob State Park. A son was attempting CPR on his father. Belville took over until volunteer firefighters arrived, followed by EMS and sheriff’s deputies. The victim was a friend and neighbor to Ranger Belville and other park staff, making this rescue attempt particularly difficult.
- On Feb. 7, 2017, Ranger Jason Anthony noticed one car was left in the Hanging Rock State Park lot near the visitor’s center. Against reason, he decided to check the Hanging Rock Trail for the operator. When he reached the top of the rock formation, he saw a backpack on the ledge. He could not see anyone in the vicinity and it was very dark and windy. He called other park staff including Sam Koch, Mary Griffin, Austin Paul and Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger to help search. Koch went to the base of the rock formation and found the victim badly injured, having fallen 115 feet. The patient was able to be flown by air transport to the hospital. Less than two weeks later, another person fell 40 feet from the rock formation. At that time, Ranger Austin Paul was on duty and responded to the 911 call. He and Ranger Anthony provided care until EMS arrived. That victim was also flown by air transport to the hospital. The Hanging Rock State Park staff went above and beyond to help visitors by carrying oxygen, narcan, and increasing training for rangers to provide the best possible care.