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State Park Jobs and Career Opportunities - Kentucky

Interview with a Park Naturalist


Name: Jenny Howard

Current Position: Parks Program Services Supervisor (also known as Park Naturalist/Recreation Supervisor)

How long have you been with Kentucky State Parks and in what capacity?
My work with Kentucky State Parks started in May 2006 at Lake Barkley State Resort Park. The Park Naturalist aspect of the position enticed me.

How did you become interested in working as a Park Naturalist?
Since childhood, I've always had a great passion for the outdoors and a strong belief and interest in education. I was always enamored with the fun and knowledge that naturalist in our state parks seemed to have, and growing up visiting and vacationing in Kentucky’s state parks planted a seed in me in early years.

Through Peace Corps, I was introduced to the field of Environmental Education and explored the career once I returned stateside. After a temporary stint with US Fish and Wildlife Service to "get my feet wet" in the field, I returned to school for a Masters in Environmental Education. This degree and several positions in my work experience qualified me for the Kentucky State Parks as a Naturalist, so I jumped on the open positions with Parks and have enjoyed it ever since!

Describe a typical day at your job.
(If there is no such thing as a typical day, then please tell us about your primary responsibilities and duties.)
The technical title of Park Program Services Supervisor offers a lot of room for job duties, which corresponds very well with the diversity of this position from one Kentucky State Park to the next. As Park Naturalist, I oversee interpretive nature-based programs and events, maintain park trails, promote and educate on wildlife and biological policies, and generally celebrate the flora and fauna of our nearly 3,800 acres of woodland and the waters of adjacent Lake Barkley. I make use of nature hikes, natural history slide shows, stream strolls and investigations, owl prowls and eagle watches, canoe/boat tours, and backpacking excursions. As Recreation Supervisor, I supervise pool and beach facilities, maintain playgrounds, trap shooting and archery facilities, coordinate family games and activities, supervise seasonal recreation staff, and organize special events.

How many hours a week do you work in this position?
Although holiday weeks and special events may demand a bit more, my average week is 45 hours.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
I greatly enjoy the natural wonders of Lake Barkley and our Park lands. Every few months offers a new perspective of the park and outdoor discoveries, as our climate offers four distinct and quite beautiful seasons. From winter to fall, the Park changes dramatically. To share this dynamic and inspiring natural system with visitors and the local community encourages me to learn more, see more, hike more, and paddle further just to see the eyes of a child light up when an owl calls to us or a fish jumps high out of the water next to the boat. The natural world offers such simple pleasures and life lessons!

What do you find to be the greatest challenges of your job?
I never seem to have the time to accomplish all that is possible in education and interpretation. It's a good thing that so many of our visitors return to the park year after year, so I can offer them new programs, new ideas, new knowledge each time they visit. It's feeling of knowing we're providing quality programs and experiences and, at the same time, knowing how much more still we have to offer.

What kind of training/schooling is required in your position?
More and more, a Masters degree in a related field is sought in quality candidates. Relevant experience certainly holds its weight.

Is there any kind of training or general experience that you wish you had before taking your job?
I don't feel I can ever have too much training in the "ologies." All of the sciences - especially ecology-based systems sciences - are crucial to seeing the natural world as it truly as and truly operates, which helps immensely in providing a down-to-earth and accurate interpretation to park guests.

What are a few of the projects that you've been working on recently that have been the most interesting?
Increasing and improving our trail systems (both for hiking and mountain biking), working with the local schools to get students outside and detached from a digital screen, building up the local volunteer base on the park and creating events of appreciation for our volunteers, special events such as Backpacking Weekends and Eagle Watch Weekends, and researching the history and heritage of the Lake Barkley area from the days before the Park was created.

If someone were interested in working in your position, what advice could you give them?
As with any similar field that pays you in experience and personal satisfaction more than in dollars, the role of Park Naturalists and Recreation programmers is one that requires a person dedicated to the mission of the agency. Get out and volunteer in the field that interests you. Try an internship for a summer or semester. Once you've experienced the behind-the-scenes dedication and effort that goes into the position, it becomes much more clear as to whether that job is genuinely what you perceive it to be. In any case, finding something you enjoy and believe in is the most important!

Please share any further thoughts you may have about working in the state park system:
Kentucky puts a lot of pride and investment into our parks, and it truly shows! I've enjoyed sharing in that pride. I'll simply repeat my last statement: Enjoy it? Believe in it? Make a job out of it!

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