Archive for the ‘Ask It’ Category

Gatekeepers: NC State Park Superintendent

Scott Hartley, Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve Park Superintendent.

Name: Scott Hartley

Occupation: Park Superintendent at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in North Carolina.

What motivated you to pursue a career in State Parks?
I became a Park Ranger and then Park Superintendent because it gave me the opportunity to work and live in the most beautiful places in North Carolina. To be able to live and work in the park and educate people about and protect our state’s natural and cultural heritage is very rewarding.  I think it is the most important thing we do in NC State Parks.

Best part of the gig?
Everything—except some of the administrative duties!  I have the best job in the world. I really enjoy doing interpretive and educational programs, bird banding and conducting prescribed burns.  Put a drip torch in my hand and I’m a very happy man.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Using prescribed fire in a suburban area. Weymouth is surrounded by development and smoke management is the most challenging aspect of using prescribed fire. We burn small areas and put a lot of effort in mopping up after a burn (i.e. using water to put out logs and snags that are producing a lot of smoke) in order to reduce the amount of residual smoke so it doesn’t affect our park neighbors.

What do you look forward to most each year at Weymouth Woods Sandhills?
Spring because it’s prime burn time—the peak time for doing school programs—and there is so much happening in the natural world here at the park. I try to spend all the time I can outside so I don’t miss anything.  This time of year is my favorite because I’m immersed in all the parts of my job that led me to work in State Parks.

Have any funny stories you care to share?
The funniest thing that ever happened to me while at work was when…  I was a ranger at Eno River State Park I was hiking on the Buckquarter Creek Trail. A small tree had fallen across the creek offering a quicker way to cross instead of hiking another ¼ mile to the existing bridge. So I start across, lose my balance and fall into the creek in full uniform. The water fortunately wasn’t deep and I landed on my feet.  As I was climbing up the bank to the trail I was thinking how lucky I was that no one saw me and I come face to face with a visitor with a big smile on their face.

Prescribed fires at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve.

What would surprise most people about what you do?
You never know what you will see or hear each day. For example, this New Years day I had a park visitor come and report that there was a small monkey on the trail.  When I asked the visitor what color it was, they said it was brown and wearing a diaper. Indeed, we later found that a small Rhesus monkey had escaped from a park neighbor’s house.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about the great outdoors?
Spend time with people who enjoy, respect and understand how important it is to get outdoors and learn about our environment.

If you could design your own state park, what would it include?
Everything we have in all of our NC State parks compacted into one park so you could see the entire park in a few days.  It would have the highest mountain east of the Black Hills, one of the tallest sand dunes on the east coast, the best preserved brick fort on the east coast, the oldest Longleaf pine in the universe, lakes, rivers and streams, mountains, spectacular views, waterfalls, beaches, barrier islands, swamps, examples of all the states natural communities, low-impact recreation, campgrounds, and visitor centers for people to learn about the park and our states natural heritage.

Fill in the blank

When I’m not working you’ll likely find me:
Outside looking at birds, bugs, plants, etc.; hiking, running, taking pictures, traveling, and enjoying life.

Outdoor goals for 2012:
Spend as much time as I can outside, explore new areas, continue to learn about the outdoors, share what I learn, and, hopefully, make a difference.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers.

If it were not for Pocket Ranger®:
People would not be reading this! They also wouldn’t know that Weymouth Woods is one of the best places in North Carolina to see endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. They would not have lots of great park information at their fingertips.

The best reason to bring along your own Pocket Ranger®:
It gives visitors access to information about our parks. I think it makes visitors better prepared and more likely to have a better experience at the park.

My favorite mobile apps:
Ibird Pro and Go Sky Watch.

An interesting fact about Weymouth Woods Sandhills:
We have a 155-acre tract of old growth Longleaf pine that has the oldest known Longleaf pine in the galaxy at 463 years old. We celebrate this tree’s birthday each year by having hikes to see it and provide talks on the ecology of the Longleaf pine forest.

Off-Duty Confidential: The Morning Fresh

While many of her precocious cohorts can be found conquering tabletops and investigating the insides of cavernous bars, 23-year-old Katie Boué’s curiosity steers her in the direction of mountaintops, deep into the hollows of caves and onto rugged boulders. She chronicles her copious, outdoor escapades (trust us, there’s many!) on The Morning Fresh, a site that’s brimming with photos and tales of everything from solo camping and cross-country road tripping to hiking and rock climbing. Read all about Katie’s fearless exploits, peep more impressive photos (she’s shaking her picture-hoarding rep) and learn how Nike’s ubiquitous slogan is more than just an exercise mantra—it’s a way of life—on this week’s Off-Duty Confidential. And be sure to check out her blog: The Morning Fresh.

  • Name:  Katie Boué
  • Occupation: Adventurer might be the best overall word to describe my occupation. I’m a climber, travel blogger, hiker, camper and addicted road-tripper—and to pay the bills, I’m also a freelance copywriter for LivingSocial.

The Backstory 

  • At what age did you have your first outdoor experience?

Thanks to zealous parents, I’ve been exposed to the outdoors my entire life. My childhood molded me to be naturally curious about the world with family excursions like weekend camping trips in Yosemite National Park, cruises to Alaska, and a road-trip from coast-to-coast after spending a year living in California.

  • Looking back, how did that first experience shape what you do today?

The way I was raised instilled me with this insatiable itch to explore, and looking back at my family hallways lined with my father’s photography, it’s no wonder I’m now so passionate about sharing my travel experiences and inspiring others to embark on their own journeys.

  • Why’d you start blogging about outdoor travel? started out as an outlet for me to chronicle my climbing trips and share my photography from outdoor bouldering, but quickly turned into a travel blog after I spent the summer of 2010 blogging about my adventures on the road during a chaotic road trip with three dirty boys in a crowded Jeep.

  • What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

It is so overwhelming to keep up with all the photography that needs to get edited and watermarked, plus the accompanying stories that need to be written. I have over 100,000 photos on my external hard drive, and I’ve really only grazed the surface of the adventures I’ve collected in recent months.

  • What’s the strangest thing to ever happen to you on a camping/hiking/biking/etc. trip? 

Strange and funny things always seem to be on the menu during nonstop hauls across the long state of Texas—like alien prophecies written on scraps of cardboard along a farmland fence that I read for at least a mile.

  • You’ve got tons of great pictures paired with equal amounts of text on your blog. Do you find one to be more representative of your experiences outdoors than the other?

This is a tough question. I am foremost a writer, with my overall career and four years of university studies focusing on creative writing—but, I think my photography takes the cake on Each relies on the other to fully narrate my adventures, but I think my photography rises above the words to best paint a picture of my travels.

  • What’s your preferred medium to capture your journey?

I treasure my Nikon D7000 like it’s my child. I take it everywhere with me, and it’s absolutely my favorite medium for capturing my exploits. Whether it’s snapping a shot during a tense moment of climbing, or delicately composing a dainty frame of nature’s tiny plants, I love documenting my travels through photography.

  • What’s something most people wouldn’t know about you?

I had to ask my climbing friends for some advice on how to answer this question. The consensus was, most people wouldn’t know that I’m actually pretty intimidated by most of the escapades I get myself into. Lead climbing, being in the woods at night, and trusting failed plans to work out top the list of my secret fears—but don’t tell my readers, I have a bold image to uphold!

Top of the List

  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten when it comes to the outdoors?

Just do it. That’s what my faithful co-pilot/boyfriend constantly tells me, and I’m sure it will inflate his head to hear me admit it, but he’s always right. Whether I’m at a tricky section of a climb or am feeling apprehensive about trying a new food, he always pushes me to “just do it.”

  • What’s the most underrated piece of advice you could share with us? 

Pack snacks. I always get heads shaken at me when I’m loading my bag up with Clif Bars, beef jerky, fruit, and pistachios—but halfway into whatever outdoor pursuit we’re on, everyone comes begging me for some munchies. It’s absolutely worth the heavier sack to have an ample supply of snacks.

  • What’s your favorite food to snack on? 

I am such a sucker for peppered beef jerky, and one of the few times I can justify munching on a giant bag of it is during climbing trips—how else is a lady supposed to get her fix of protein?

I would be scrambling to find safe and exciting places to camp. I think state parks are really underrated, and Pocket Ranger® does a great job of giving users convenient access to places they may not have otherwise known about. Since most of my travels take me through places like Florida, Colorado, Utah, and the southeast, I am waiting with bated breath until the Pocket Ranger® app expands to include even more states.

  • What are some of your favorite outdoor app? 

I’m a huge fan of the Mountain Project app. It is absolutely essential for climbers on-the-go, providing users with everything from climbing area directions, beta for routes, photos of boulders, and more.

  • Music or natural sounds? What’s your outdoor soundtrack consist of? 

I’m a natural sounds kind of gal, all the way. A lot of climbers like to bring music along while they hang out at a crag—which is pretty nice when you’re with a big group basically socializing while taking turns climbing a rock—but most of the time, I prefer a soundtrack of a creek’s running water, critters in the thistle, and wind rustling through the trees.

  • What gear or piece of equipment can’t you do without? 

Anything else I could replace or make do without, but I absolutely must have my La Sportiva climbing shoes. They’re like an extension of my body, and I’d be so bummed to come across a sweet climbing spot if I couldn’t just slip on my shoes and hop on the rock. My camera equipment is also pretty crucial – but I just discovered the amazing camera on the iPhone 4s, which is a pretty decent substitute when I’m caught without my Nikon.

  • We know it’s like picking your favorite kid, but what’s the most memorable place you’ve visited?

I appreciate that you guys own up to asking such an unfair question—but I’m willing to play favorites. My favorite place I’ve recently visited is Moab in Utah. I spent about a week out there in May to visit two friends who were working as rafting guides on the Colorado River, and fell in love with everything about living in the desert. Arches National Park is one of my favorite parks I’ve visited in America; it’s extremely underrated.

  • What’s the question you get asked most often about your profession? About your blog?

People are always curious about how I manage to make a living while heading off on all my extended adventures, which naturally leads to a slew of questions about working remotely on the road while freelance copywriting for LivingSocial. The question I get asked most from my close cohorts about The Morning Fresh is easily, “when are you going to post those pictures of me from the trip we went on?”

  • What sorts of easy, go-to outdoor recipe you could recommend to our readers?

My go-to meals during camping trips are very simple, very adaptable, and very delicious. Just stock up on your favorite vegetables, maybe add some diced up chicken or tofu, sprinkle on a few seasonings, and wrap it up in an aluminum foil pouch. Toss your cornucopia of campfire feasting over hot embers on the outskirts of the flames, wait until juices start bubbling out the sides, and you’ve got yourself a delicious dinner.

  • What keepsake or memento that you’ve picked up along your travels do you treasure most?

My favorite travel souvenir is actually perched next to me on the couch at this very moment. During a winter trip to climb at Stone Fort near Chattanooga, Tennessee, my companions and I made a pit stop at our favorite gas station at the base of the mountain to stock up on gummy worms and cheap coffee. While there, I spotted this old abandoned beagle scurrying around the gas pumps looking for love. Needless to say, we didn’t think twice about loading her in the car with us and returned home to Florida. Her name is Sender now, and she’s the best companion a lady could ever ask for.

  • What’s next for you in 2012?

Every year brings me a collection of unbelievable adventures, and 2012 is no exception. This year I’ll be trekking all over Colorado, the southeast, and hopefully Moab for a few weeks. My main focus for this year is preparing for 2013 when I plan on selling all my stuff, buying a van, and living on the road for a period of fully committing myself to a life of adventure—and of course, I invite everyone to keep up with my travels on and via Twitter @themorningfresh.

Off-Duty Confidential: The Writing Huntress

The Writing Huntress

There’s a new doe-eyed creature surreptitiously roaming the forest—and no, we don’t mean Bambie’s stealthier sister. She’s Lisa, the Writing Huntress, and she’d sooner guide than become browse. For her, hunting is a way of life (She even got engaged on a hunting expedition!), rising before dawn and decking out in camo before most of us are even up for work. Learn more about this twentysomething’s pursuit for adventure and be sure to check out her blog, Hunt Like You’re Hungry for more tales of the outdoors.

Name: Lisa Jane or as the majority of the hunting world knows me, The Writing Huntress

Occupation:  proud huntress.

Blogging for: 1.5 years

Fill in the blanks: I hunt, therefore I eat!

Finish the sentence.

The hardest thing about hunting and writing:
Trying to find better ways to say what has been already said.  My blog is interesting in that you’ll never get a play-by-play of my hunts. I always try to make it so that the reader is drawn in by some strange story or statement, which acts as a segue to a larger tale about my hunting adventures.

The strangest thing I’ve ever encountered outdoors:
Was tree that put forth a very serious proposal.  One day I was walking in the woods with my then-boyfriend and I turned to see LISA WILL YOU MARRY ME carved on the tree next to us!

The funniest thing that ever happened to me while hunting:
Occurred the day I shot my first duck.  I was so excited that I shot it that I ran to get it, caught my boot on a rut and fell face-first into a snow bank, a story that my fiancée has no problem in retelling.

The most surprising part of what I do would be:
That I can’t creatively write on command. This sounds a little weird as I am a writer but I need time to really digest an event in order to really express it creatively.

When I’m not hunting or writing about hunting, you can find me:
reading.  I am an obsessive bibliophile.

A little-known fact about you is:
That I am practically a legal midget.  I am about 4’11 on a good day, which is only an inch above what is considered having a height-induced disability.

Describe your perfect day spent outdoors.
My perfect day would begin at around 3 a.m. when DU (fiancée extraordinaire) and I would head out to the duck blind, preferably in a wintry North Dakota.  We’d eat something cooked over a propane grill then proceed to spend the morning shooting down fast food from the big blue.  After our duck hunting adventures, we’d head out to harvest a moose or elk, and then enjoy freshly butchered backstrap while sitting in front of a roaring fire in a stunning log cabin.

Most overrated thing about hunting:
Hunting shows. I am a purist when it comes to watching hunting and as of late, I refuse to watch the majority of what’s out there. Shows today illustrate an inaccurate representation of hunting as a whole. Personally, I don’t hunt on fenced-in land nor am I able to pick off a 160-inch deer at will. I can barely afford the camo on back so if I can harvest a doe the size of my dog, I celebrate.

If it were not for Pocket Ranger® apps (
Many people would not know the majesty of their local state park!


She said "yes!"

Outdoor snack: Apple cinnamon Nutri-Grain bar with Glacier Freeze Gatorade.

Outdoor soundtrack: Consists of Eddie Vedder (Into The Wild Soundtrack), Eric Church, Justin Moore, Rhett Akins, and, of course, Uncle Ted.

State Park: Morrow Mountain state park for its stunning scenery and interesting history, especially the old cabins!

Outdoor advice: Came from my NYS hunter safety instructor.  He told us  (the collective “us”, being a gaggle of 12 year olds, I, the solitary 22-year-old) the two cardinal rules of hunting: 1) Always handle firearms as if they are loaded 2) Always be able to identify your target, as well as what lies behind your target.

This or That?

Camo or animal print?
Camo!! (Preferably Max 4 or Mossy Oak Duck Blind)

Pets or no pets? Proud mom to three great rescued pooches, Titus Andronicus (boxer-mix), Avery Tamora (black lab-mix) and Dixie Bluegrass (Corgi-Blue Heeler-mix)

Do you eat everything you hunt? Do you hunt for sport? Or both? Explain. Always hunt for food, as a wise man once told me, as hard as you try, you can’t eat antlers.  I wouldn’t kill anything I (or someone I know) didn’t intend to eat.

Has it ever been difficult being a woman in a mostly male sport?
It has been, especially when men think that I am a delicate flower who can’t carry a gun and a bag of decoys.  Sometimes this is annoying, but I enjoy the moment of revelation when the man in question realizes that I can shoot a gun, field dress a deer and carry my own in the field.

What gear and/or hunting equipment can you simply not do without?
Simply cannot do without my camo face paint and my camera. I adore painting my face for hunting adventures, so much so that I made an entire video devoted to the messy stuff. The latter I adore because so much of hunting happens when one is not actively harvesting animals for the dinner plate—it’s in the sunrises, sunsets, the duck blind shenanigans and the trips to the stand where memories are made.

Off-Duty Confidential: What’s Cooking Campside Chef?

The Campside Chef

Forget Grill Master! Campside Chef Ronald Loeber—author and owner of—is a whiz when it comes to cooking over an open fire. His skills with silicone tongs are as impressive as his survival savvy, especially when faced with unidentified marine species (more on that later).  Get to know this culinary champion of the great outdoors below and then visit his site, for a huge assortment of recipes, cooking tips and more. Check back tomorrow when Chef Loeber will share one of his favorite, go-to camping breakfast recipes.

Chef Ronald M. Loeber, but most of my friends just call me Chef Ron.

What keeps you busy in the great outdoors? 
I created a website three years ago named It is a way for me to share my knowledge and experience with camping and cooking in the great outdoors. I hope to be publishing my first book in early spring named “The Campside Chef Pocket Guide”. It’s a how-to guide to becoming a Campside Chef. I also have plenty of other projects going on that keeps me very busy but I love it.

Why’d you start blogging about campside cooking?
I started because of all the positive feedback I received not only from the friends I camped with but also from people passing by wanting to check out my “Campside Kitchen”. I have a great passion for both cooking and camping, and writing about it is a joy that never seems like work.


What’s the hardest thing about cooking and blogging?
I learned when I was a Chef instructor to never assume someone knows the same things I know about cooking. So, when I write about it or create a new recipe I try to be very detail oriented and never assume someone will do it the same way I would do it. I’m sure I don’t always achieve that but it’s my goal.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever encountered outdoors?
It was when a friend and I were fishing on this large pond on a calm, sunny day. All of the sudden a small water spout appeared 100 feet out over the water and headed right at us. It moved so quickly we didn’t have time to react.  Our chairs got thrown 30 feet and landed in the water along with my hat. Then it was calm again…

Any interesting outdoor cooking stories?
I have to say there has been plenty of funny experiences that have happened in my twenty plus years of camping. I do remember one time though when I cooked steaks for myself and a friend of mine. We had stopped at a small deli on the way up to camp. I bought two of the nicest Delmonico steaks you could ever lay your eyes on. We were both so hungry.  I fired up the grill and put them on. We got to drinking some beers and sharing some fishing stories. Well, we started smelling the steaks and turned around to find the grill ablaze. We ran over and lifted the lid to find our steaks on fire.  We took our well done steaks inside and started to eat them. I could hear my friend crunching down on every bite. I looked at the expression on his face and started laughing. Although only 10% of our steaks were edible we both got a good laugh out of it. Sometimes you just have to make the best of a situation. I’m glad we had a lot of beer to rehydrate them.

What would most people not know about what you do?
I would say it’s the lengths I go to create the perfect outdoor kitchen environment. I believe a Campside Kitchen should be clean, safe, bug-free, and have the ability to create great meals quickly and easily. You would be amazed at what I can fit in my Chevy Cobalt!

Check Chef Ron's site for stories from his time spent in the US Army.

Where can we find the Campside Chef on his off days?
Working my full time job as a sous-chef.

What’s the advice you’ve received when it comes to the great outdoors?
Don’t feed the animals because they will come back for the rest of the food when you are asleep!

What’s your perfect day outdoors like?
A perfect day outside for me would be sunny with a few high thin clouds. The temperature would be between 75-80°F with low humidity. It would be relatively quiet with just the sounds of nature. I would be fishing or hiking on one of the abundant New York State lakes or trails. Of course I would have cooked some great food to make the day complete!

What’s do most people not about the Campside Chef?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics/Business to go along with my Culinary Arts degree.

What’s the most underrated outdoor-cooking tip you’ve ever received?
Disposing of grease and food scraps.  Put them in a sealed container or garbage bag and bring them to the recycling center that night or store in the trunk of your vehicle.  I’m amazed by how many campsites I come across with food scraps just a few feet into the woods from where people had their tents.

Overrated tip?
Hanging food from a tree. Animals can climb trees and bears can knock the small ones over. Don’t make your food bag into a piñata for a bear! Keep all food in sealed containers and in the trunk overnight.

What’s the number one reason why campers should always bring his or her Pocket Ranger® app with them outdoors?
The great outdoors would be more of a headache finding things and less time enjoying them.

Favorite outdoors snack? 
Peanuts in the shell. They are nutritious and the shells are biodegradable.

Best outdoors soundtrack?
A CD full of the sounds of nature…just kidding! Actually, I listen to a wide range of music when I am in the mood for it.

Which park do you fall for every time you visit?
North/South Lake state park each time I visit for its natural beauty and amazing views of the Hudson River valley from the escarpment on the edge of the park.

What’s the one cooking utensil you simply can’t do without?
That would be my silicone tipped, metal tongs. I use them for everything. They’re great because the silicone tips won’t scratch non-stick pans and are heat resistant up to 500°F. The best part is they only cost around $10.

What’s the question you get asked most often about what you do?
What is my best or favorite dish to create and how to adapt what can be done in a house kitchen to a campside kitchen.

Off-Duty Confidential: The Outside Mom

Lindsey and her brood.

Lindsey Wilson not only pulls double duty as an environmental educator and blogger for her site Outside Mom, she’s also a full-time mom to two precocious tots. Jam-packed schedule notwithstanding, this environmental enthusiast has been a champion of Mother Nature for more than a decade now. Learn how she balances home life and educating the masses about nature, all while making time to take full advantage of the great outdoors—even if it means evading wild coyotes periodically.

My name is… Lindsey

I am currently a… full-time Mom, part-time Environmental Educator and intermittent Blogger.

I became an Environmental Educator because…
I love being outdoors and appreciate the challenge of finding ways to teach practical and life skills using the environment. After I became a mom, it became clear that raising my kids to be the kind of adults I wanted them to be involved teaching them those same practical and life skills. In other words: being a good mom wasn’t that different from being a good environmental educator. I guess this is why I started blogging, I wanted an outlet for sharing my thoughts and ideas with other parents.

The best part of my job is.. 
the “field work.” I love taking kids outdoors, whether it’s my own or my pre-school class, and watching them discover and appreciate all the little things in nature we often take for granted: finding animal tracks, appreciating the diversity of seeds, playing in mud, watching insects, throwing rocks, etc.

The biggest challenge so far has been…
keeping myself motivated to get the kids out on a daily basis. I know it sounds crazy, because really there is no place I would rather be than outside. But taking a pack of kids ages 2-5 outside, even if it’s just my own two, can be exhausting!

The biggest challenge about blogging is finding the time. I’d rather be outside conducting my ‘field work’ than inside writing about it.

All in a day's work.

The strangest thing I’ve ever encountered outdoors was…
happened just a few months ago. I was hiking up a hill near my house early in the morning when a coyote came out of her den about 30 feet away and started barking and howling at me relentlessly. I got so unnerved that I turned around and headed back down the trail. She followed me, barking and howling at me for about a mile until I was back out to the road.

Other instances that come to mind involve meeting a woman hiking to Calf Creek in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in jeweled high heels and carrying a fluffy white cat; and a man I encountered in Zion National Park hiking totally naked. Well, I guess that’s not totally true, he did have a backpack on.

The funniest thing that ever happened to me on the trails was when…
I’ve experienced a lot of laughter outdoors. I giggle when I remember the time my sister sent our entire camp into panicked chaos after “hearing a noise” at night. I for one ended up burrowing underneath a tent.

I still laugh when I remember trying to free a wild goose with a trap on her leg. Being beaten in the face by goose wings while wallowing in mud is always good for a laugh.

Of course most of these experiences are the kind you can only laugh about later, but are memories that make being outdoors all the more memorable.

When I’m not teaching or blogging about the outdoors you’ll likely find me…
Playing trains with my boys, riding bikes around the neighborhood, throwing rocks in the canal behind our house, touring a museum or napping in the hammock with one of my sons.

Best advice I’ve ever gotten when it comes to Mother Nature is…
My Mom use to always remind us that, “Mother Nature bats last”. Turns out, she’s absolutely right.

My perfect day outdoors…
Would include a morning mountain bike ride, an afternoon paddle down the river, a lazy sunset picnic and a cozy fire underneath a full moon.

When spending time outdoors I love to snack on…
French bread, swiss cheese, dried fruit and trail mix.

The Gatekeepers: Inside Louisiana State Parks Programs

Interpretive specialist Erin Sullivan not only spends most of her days enjoying the outdoors but she also gets to travel to a number of Louisiana’s State Parks  too. As a program consultant, Sullivan sees the ins and outs of park life, helps her colleagues create successful educational programs and bonds with Mother Nature on a daily basis. Get to know Erin as she takes us behind the park gates.

My name is… Erin Sullivan

I am currently a… State Parks Program Consultant (and Interpretive Specialist).

I became a State Parks Program Consultant because… I loved being a Naturalist Park Ranger but I wanted to be a voice for ALL of our state parks.

The best part of my job is… TRAVELING :)

The biggest challenge is… working for Mother Nature and state government at the same time.

The strangest thing I’ve ever encountered on duty is… snail courtship. (**Cutest thing ever**)

The funniest thing that ever happened to me at work was when… a bunch of us flipped our canoes and couldn’t stop slipping on the muddy riverbank.

The most surprising part of my job is… how often I say, “I love my job!” and really mean it.

Off-duty you’ll likely find me… riding my bike around the LSU Lakes, looking for citified nature.

My perfect day… is [spent] in a canoe on a sunny day.

If it were not for Pocket Ranger®… I wouldn’t have a Ranger in my pocket.

The best reason to bring along your own Pocket Ranger® is … so you can find a trail to hike at any time of day on any day of the week. :)

When spending time outdoors I love to snack on… granola bars and Satsumas.

Your outdoor soundtrack… MGMT – Weekend Warriors!

My favorite apps are… Shazam! Sudoku, and Pocket Ranger® of course.

Tunica Hills Preservation Area Mississippi Overlook… is the most breathtaking view. On that bluff, I felt like I was in a dream.

Hodges Garden State Park’s Butterfly Gardens puts me in a… trance each time. I could watch the butterflies until the sun sets.

Off-Duty Confidential: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Adam Nutting,

Web developer by trade and hopeful hiker of the Appalachian Trail by nature, Adam Nutting recently set off on a once-in-a-lifetime quest to hike the A.T in its entirety. He’ll be quitting his job and sharing his experiences traversing the longest continuously marked footpath in the world—roughly 2,180 miles—on his blog, Hiking The Trail. Much to our benefit, Adam took time out of his busy schedule designing and exploring for an insider look at the life of a full-time hiker.

My name is… Adam Nutting

I am currently a… Web Designer / Web Developer (and soon-to-be conqueror of the Appalachian Trail!)

I became a web designer / developer because I enjoy being creative to build something that a client is extremely happy with.

The best part of attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail..  is the outdoor community. The folks in the backpacking, hiking, and outdoors community are awesome. They are very helpful.  They are always willing to share their experiences, lessons and tips.

The biggest challenge so far has been… the logistics of the trip. Creating a budget to raise all of the money, how I will get to the trail and back home again, and how I will re supply on the trail. Not to mention researching all of the needed gear and learning about the area the trail runs through. I have spent limited time in the eastern United States as I hail from the Midwest.

Philmont Scout Ranch

The strangest thing I’ve ever encountered on the trails was… was at Philmont Scout Ranch in the back country. One of the camps was not staffed and was nestled in this amazing pine grove. Around a fire pit made of rocks there were chairs, a sofa and love seats made out of rocks.  What got me was that there were no other rocks this size near the camp or the trail. Where did they come from and who packed all of those rocks in? There were no truck trails or roads close.

The funniest thing that ever happened to me on the trails was when… during the 10 days we were in the backcountry of Philmont Scout Ranch. I was the only one who had to have their pants put up in the bear bag every night because I spilled hot coco on them very early  in the trek. What makes it even funnier is that I was too young to be considered an adult leader but to old to be considered a youth. Needless to say the nick name “Quasi” stuck and every night it never failed someone would yell don’t forget to get Quasi to put his pants in the bear bag for the entire world to hear.

The most surprising part of this goal is… that there are far fewer people than I expected to say that I am crazy for quitting my job and hiking the A.T.  All of my friends and family have been awesome and hugely supportive.

When I’m not trying to hike the A.T. you’ll likely find me… either watching movies with friends or working at my second job, a Web design shop, which I own and run.

My perfect day… is any day spent outside with a pack on enjoying the outdoors in all of its glory.

If it were not for Pocket Ranger®… I would not be able to have handy park information that is not always provided by the parks while on the trails.

The best reason to bring along your own Pocket Ranger® is … the wealth of information that Pocket ranger has. It has trail info, photos and even history of the are!

When spending time outdoors I love to snack on… GORP – Good ole raisins and peanuts aka trail mix.

Your outdoor soundtrack… the natural sounds around me—I prefer to not use a music device and head phones while out on the trail. Even if the sounds are more industrial or human chatter than the wildlife.
My favorite apps are…  Pocket Ranger®, iMapMyHike and Yodel.

The state park I like most… is Weston Bend State Park [in Missouri]. There is one section of the trail where you walk through a labyrinth of trees and the trail is just wherever you want to pass between the trees. It brings out my inner geek and makes me think I am on some adventure from Hobbit or Lord of the Rings adventures. Coming from the mid west we don’t have mountains so any park with a mountain vista and an amazing view will get me.

The Gatekeepers: Brittany Whitaker

From campground calamities to real-life Yogi bears, state park employees see and do it all. But it’s not just camp stories they’re privy to! Pocket Ranger™’s weekly series gives you a glimpse inside the lives of these park heros with tales and happenings from beyond the park gates.


Name: Brittany Whitaker

Current Position: South District Interpretation and Education Specialist, North Carolina 

Why did you become an education specialist?
I have to be honest, as a child I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career. Not even your standard dreams to be an astronaut, fireman, or ballet dancer. For me, it took a lot of exploration before I realized that teaching, especially in the outdoors and about the outdoors, was my true calling and passion. I still fascinate myself in how easily the “teacher” comes out in me when I stand up in front of a group. But I suppose somehow it is my passion for what I do that in the end does the speaking for me.

What are some of the highs and lows of the job?
The best thing about what I do is having the opportunity to teach fun and entertaining programs that inspire curiosity about the natural world in kids and adults. Especially great is in reaching an audience that wouldn’t have interest in it otherwise. The worst thing has to be office work. Enough said!

What is the strangest thing you have encountered while on duty?
Well, I don’t often encounter very many strange things in my job capacity but it is always full of all kinds of surprises! Kids, especially unrestrained spirited ones, always do things that make me laugh, think, examine my life, and generally just make my day. You can’t beat that!

What would most people find surprising about your job?
I am always learning more. If I’m not an expert on a topic before I teach it, I work to become one. And if I encounter someone who still manages to outwit me with a difficult question, I just humbly offer to look it up and let him or her know the answer later. It happens more than I would like, but it’s never a bad thing.

Off-duty you’ll likely find me: Relaxing on a lawn chair in my backyard while surfing the net on my laptop. In the background are my chickens scratching in the yard for yummy treats…followed closely behind by my dogs, which tread curiously trying to figure out why they’re searching so intently. Ultimately the dogs get distracted and settle for eating chicken droppings. Ew, I know! But it’s better than stepping in it!

Without Pocket Ranger™… It wouldn’t be as easy for me to access park updates, such as the weather forecasts and environmental education programming.

Best reason to bring along your own Pocket Ranger™: So you can keep up with any hazardous weather…or even just disruptive weather I guess too! It’s never fun to get ‘rained out’ but, if you do, State Parks have some wonderful exhibit halls to explore. Don’t forget about them!

Favorite outdoor snack: S’mores—around the campfire of course!

Apps I love:

  • Google Sky: It’s a pocket guide that you can use to interpret the night sky without the aid of an astronomer (although having one there in addition only makes the app that much more relevant). 
  • Google Maps: I can’t survive without good, turn-by-turn directions… Let’s just say I’d be lost without it.
  • GasBuddy: Helps me to find the cheapest gas wherever I am.
  • WordPress: Helps me run and manage my blog. It’s a great blog site.
  • And of course Pocket Ranger!

The Gatekeepers: Nora Coffey

From campground calamities to real-life Yogi bears, state park employees see and do it all. But it’s not just camp stories they’re privy to! Pocket Ranger™’s weekly series gives you a glimpse inside the lives of these park heros with tales and happenings from beyond the park gates.


Name: Nora Coffey

Current Position: Park Ranger, Lake James State Park, North Carolina 

Why did you become a park ranger?
I became a park ranger because I like spending time outdoors. I wanted to do something to help the environment and educate others about it, and it seemed like it would be a fun job. 

What are the highs and lows of the job?
The best thing about what I do is that every day is something different.  The job never gets boring! The worst thing about what I do is that I have to work most weekends and all holidays in the summer months. 

What is the strangest thing you have encountered while on duty?
It would have to be a wedding that was held in one of the picnic shelters at the park.  The groom pulled up in a bass boat, and was dressed in his tuxedo. There was also an Elvis impersonator singing at the wedding.

What would most people find surprising about your job?
The variety of responsibilities that we have as park rangers. We are law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, resource managers, and quite often office workers, carpenters and maintenance mechanics.

Off-duty you’ll likely find me: Cooking, hiking, or playing and/or relaxing on the lake.

If it were not for Pocket Ranger™… I’d have to get on my computer more, which I don’t like.

Best reason to bring along your own Pocket Ranger™: The app saves you, and us, from printing out park maps and brochures—therefore saving paper.

Favorite outdoor snack: Fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit.

Apps I love:

  • Pocket Universe is a great app for learning the night sky.  It shows you in real time where to find all of the night sky objects, like planets, stars, and constellations. 
  • Google Maps for finding my way to new places.
  • Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends when I have a few extra minutes. 
  • Martha’s Everyday Food is one of my favorites because I can search for new recipes.

The Gatekeepers: Ron Vanover

From campground calamities to real-life Yogi bears, state park employees see and do it all. Get a glimpse of inside the lives of these park heros with tales and happenings from beyond the park gates. 


Name: Ron R. Vanover

Current Position: State Naturalist for the Kentucky Department of Parks

How long have you been with Kentucky State Parks and in what capacity?
I have been associated with the Kentucky Department of Parks for many years. In fact, this is my 19th year working full-time. I come from a rich history of relatives that have worked for the Kentucky State Park System over the years. In fact, my great grandfather was the “fiddle” player at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in the 1920s.

How did you get started?
I began my career doing seasonal recreation and naturalist programs in 1987 at Cumberland Falls. In 1992, I began working as the recreation-naturalist supervisor for Jenny Wiley State Resort Park and oversaw all the recreation programs, the campground operations, hiking trails, etc. Most notably, I assisted in the co-development of the Elk Viewing Tours for Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in the eastern Kentucky area. I also served as park manager for Natural Bridge State Resort Park from 2005-2011. In April 2011, I was appointed State Naturalist.   

Describe a typical day at your job.
Diversity is the key to my job as state naturalist. I firmly believe that many of our park jobs are meant to be diversified and to have an understanding for many different operations, which leads to being multi-faceted.  However, trail issues, land acquisition, and providing support to park naturalists across the park system are some of my duties.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy being around people! The key is that you need to be people-oriented. I often say that we create lasting memories for future generations. If we can make a family happy, we will create a trend that will develop for many years. When I was a seasonal naturalist at Cumberland Falls, the park would have past customers that visited yearly. Some of these families had been coming for over 40 years. Now, that’s a lasting impression! This is what Kentucky State Parks are all about.

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a naturalist?
Work hard, gain as much state government experience as you can and always set the example for all your employees. Be proactive instead of reactive. Also, concentrate your educational background on classes such as ornithology, field taxonomy, mammalogy, organization, environmental education and other field classes.


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