In this interview series, I’m going to introduce you to park rangers across the United States. Today’s post features Cathy Taylor, a park ranger at Paris Mountain State Park in South Carolina.
What is your name and job title?
My name is Cathy Taylor, Interpretive Ranger at Paris Mountain State Park.
Is this the first state park you’ve worked at? If not, tell me what other parks/nature centers you’ve worked at.
I’ve worked at Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, South Carolina, for 14 years. Previously, I worked at Mountain Mitchell State Park in North Carolina, Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina, and on the Blue Ridge Parkway (National Park in North Carolina). I have also been the Education Curator at the Greenville Zoo and an instructor at Roper Mountain Science Center, which is part of the school district for Greenville.
Where did you grow up? In the country, a city or a suburb?
I grew up in Miami, Florida, in the suburbs.
What did you love about the outdoors as a child?
As a child, I loved finding a place where there was no evidence of people – just nature. Looking out at Biscayne Bay in Miami, I could sometimes get that experience. I spent a lot of time riding my bike and exploring wooded areas. It was partly a spiritual connection. I love the song which says in part: “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.” My mom was also a Girl Scout leader and I enjoyed camping with the troop.
When did you know you wanted to work in outdoor education?
I went to college at the University of Florida and majored in zoology but I was spending all my free time camping and canoeing with outdoor clubs and loving it. I started thinking about all the people who live in cities and don’t get these experiences, and I took some Forest Recreation classes. One summer, I worked for the City of Miami Recreation Department and saw how many inner-city kids were surrounded by concrete. I decided I wanted to introduce inner-city kids to the natural world.
Who encouraged you to pursue a career in outdoor education?
Once I decided what I wanted to do, I applied for graduate school at Clemson University, where one of the Forest Recreation professors used to work. My close friends and my family encouraged me. I was in the school of Forest and Recreation Resources, with an emphasis in Environmental Interpretation and Resource Management. This meant I was surrounded by like-minded folks who shared my interests.
What is the most common question you get from park visitors?
“Are we going to see any snakes?” My response is, ”I hope so!”
How can parents raise kids to love the outdoors?
Take children on easy hikes. Lots of schoolchildren I meet have never before been on a hike. Create scavenger hunts for the trail. One of my most successful hikes is simply one where we look for evidence of animals (webs, tracks, chewed nuts, scat, nests). Once we start, children notice everything. Give them a chance to explore; time outdoors doesn’t always have to be structured. Find immersion experiences: wading in a creek, swimming in a lake, walking in a warm rain.
Anything else you want to share about your job or what you love about nature/being outside?
I get to experience the seasons as they unfold. And I love that I see a different group of 2nd or 5th graders every day and lots of families in the summer. We rejoice in nature as we watch a tiger swallowtail butterfly, or a goose sitting on its nest, or a turtle basking (I saw all three of these today). At least once a week, I experience a child in a state of euphoria, saying, “I love this place and I love nature! I want to come back here tomorrow!”
I hope that appreciation for nature will lead to protection of our natural world. It is actually our world too, since we are all creatures on this beautiful planet. I don’t get rich doing this job. However, I agree with the sentiment that how you spend your days is, after all, how you spend your life. I like spending my days outside, sharing the wonders of nature.
Read more in our Park Ranger Series here.