Like any good intern, when my supervisor Shannon asked me if I wanted to spend a day with Resource Management, I said yes without hesitation. It wasn’t until after she left the room that I thought to ask, “What is resource management?”
Perhaps I should have taken notice to what the others actually had to say, but all I heard was, “…something…something…hanging with the park rangers.” PARK RANGERS! How cool was this going to be?!? I’m sure with most of us, the first thing that comes to mind when you think park ranger is our National Parks’ rangers with their felt campaign hats, roaming park grounds, enforcing the rules, and protecting the wildlife.
Well, I didn’t get a cool hat or a badge because this isn’t a National Park and we don’t do that here. Nor did I get to thwart any would-be poacher’s devious plans. I didn’t get to disarm nuclear warheads with Christian Slater (I really feel like Hollywood has completely distorted my perceptions here).
What I did get was a better understanding of what being a GTM park ranger is about, along with a greater respect for what they do.
On my particular day shadowing the park rangers, we shoveled two truckloads of sand. That’s a lot of sand!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to hard work, but when I started my day, I thought I’d be patrolling the reserve in an air-conditioned Ranger truck. My expectations were partially met, however. I was in a Ranger truck — the bed of the truck, shovel in hand.
Why were we shoveling sand you may wonder? To fill holes, of course. Holes that had formed from eroded asphalt, creating a bit of a shoulder drop-off in high trafficked areas of the beach access parking lots.
While we were out fixing holes, the Rangers were also implementing a temporary fix to a beach access parking lot issue that had arisen. Not only were they changing signage to encourage visitors to park then pay, but they were also scouting out new spots for the parking lot pay boxes. Pay boxes they would be responsible for installing. Visitor safety is always at the forefront of their minds.
After spending a day with the Rangers, it was apparent that their duties go way beyond patrolling the reserve. There is the not-so-fun-but-necessary aspect of their job: picking up trash and cleaning the visitor restrooms. Then there’s the really fun side of it that includes patrolling, riding around on ATVs, educating visitors, and interacting with the wildlife.
GTM park rangers, with help from our amazing volunteers, handle all the landscaping and trail maintenance at the reserve. To maintain the natural health of the estuary, the Rangers also participate in prescribed burns.
Recently our rangers have become more involved with environmental monitoring to aid in restoring and maintaining biodiversity. A current project of theirs is the restoration of the freshwater marsh habitat, which has been negatively impacted by mosquito control ditches and encroaching pines.
In all, the park rangers’ primary focus is improving the reserve in order to enhance the visitor experience.
Jessica Lee is studying Coastal Environmental Science at the University of North Florida. Her interest lies in freshwater and estuarine ecology as well as the impact of anthropogenic factors on aquatic environments. She is presently working as a research intern at GTM Research Reserve where she is assisting with water quality monitoring and other various biomonitoring projects.