HELEN — Several Georgia State Park and Historic Site employees were honored recently during a statewide Rangers Conference. More than 150 assistant managers, park rangers and maintenance technicians gathered at Unicoi State Park in Helen for the event. After two days of hands-on training activities, the conference ended with an awards ceremony celebrating the efforts of those who make more than 60 State Parks and Historic Sites outstanding destinations for Georgia’s citizens and visitors.
Award winners included:
Above & Beyond Award – Michael Teel, Parks Ranger 2 at Florence Marina and Providence Canyon State Parks (Stewart County)
Si Longmire Ranger of the Year – Brian Richardson, Parks Ranger 1 at Moccasin Creek State Park (Habersham County)
Customer Service Award – Jessica James-Weems, Assistant Manager of Tallulah Gorge State Park (Rabun County)
Most Innovative Program on a Park – Skidaway Island State Park for “Pups and Trucks” event (Chatham County)
Most Innovative Program on a Historic Site – Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site for “Faith and Courage” exhibit (Meriwether County)
Most Outstanding Maintenance Project – Watson Mill Bridge State Park for its Equestrian ADA Ramp (Madison County)
Most Outstanding Housekeeping Operation – Florence Marina State Park (Stewart County)
Golf Course Superintendent of the Year – Rob Greer from Brazell’s Creek at Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park (Tattnall County)
Below are summaries of the award winners’ successes:
Above & Beyond Award – Michael Teel, Parks Ranger 2 at Florence Marina and Providence Canyon State Parks
Teel not only leads the maintenance team for both Florence Marina and Providence Canyon, he is a member of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Search and Rescue Team, as well as the Southern Region Debris Team Leader. Teel has been instrumental in hurricane and ice storm clean-up, plus a helicopter rescue at the canyon. During Hurricane Michael, he showed exceptional leadership and planning skills. Post-hurricane, his knowledge of equipment and repairs saved countless hours and money for the division. He was mindful of protecting Gopher Tortoise burrows and Native American artifacts during debris removal. Without his leadership, skills, knowledge and dedication, these tasks would have been more difficult and cleanup would have been prolonged.
Si Longmire Ranger of the Year – Brian Richardson, Parks Ranger 1 at Moccasin Creek State Park
Richardson consistently provides quality administrative, maintenance and managerial oversight for this popular park. With a small but dedicated support team, he maintains a positive attitude and a tight focus on all aspects of the operation. He provides training for both staff and campground hosts, and has developed a customer service-oriented team. Richardson’s calm demeanor and patience under pressure is appreciated. He also receives high praise from visitors, whose comments such as “the park looks great” and “he fixes problems quickly” speak to his abilities, commitment and professionalism. Richardson is a model employee who has served the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for 19 years.
Customer Service Award – Jessica James-Weems, Assistant Manager of Tallulah Gorge State Park
Weems exemplifies great customer service. Whether issuing trail permits, working in retail, encouraging guests along the trails, or greeting campers during nightly rounds, her inviting personality and dedication to customer service is the key to developing long-term relationships with guests. In every visitor interaction, she listens first and brings her wealth of knowledge and passion for DNR to help enhance each person’s visit. With the large volume of people passing through Tallulah Gorge, Weems helps many guests create lifelong memories.
Most Innovative Program on a Park – Skidaway Island State Park for “Pups & Trucks” event
Last November, Skidaway Island State Park created a Pups & Trucks event attracting both food lovers and dog lovers. It combined locally owned food trucks, dog snacks, pet boutiques, music, arts and crafts, pet rescue groups and other vendors. The catchy program title, combined with inviting visitors to share outdoor time with their furry family members, was the perfect match to bring 900 visitors, 10 food trucks and 20 vendors to the park.
Most Innovative Program on a Historic Site – Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site for “Faith and Courage” exhibit
This temporary exhibit recognized the contributions United States Military Chaplains who faced the same dangers that frontline soldiers faced. Many people believe Chaplains were in secure places and faced no dangers; however, they were beside soldiers on the battlefield. Through the efforts of Manager Robin Glass and Rangers David Burke and Ashley Aultman, the site partnered with exhibit owner Tom Walker, former exhibit designer for the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tenn. It also incorporated a traveling exhibit from Kennesaw State University about WWII. The display honored some of the most important people in WWII history – many who suffered personal loss and displayed great courage in the face of great danger.
Most Outstanding Maintenance Project – Watson Mill Bridge State Park for its Equestrian ADA Ramp
Team members at this park saw a need to help equestrians with mobility challenges to ride horse trails. Staff and volunteers spent four months creating an accessible ramp that matches Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. For many years, this park has been a popular destination for horseback riding. With this new ramp, even more visitors will be able to explore the trails.
Most Outstanding Housekeeping Operation – Florence Marina State Park
Dividing their time between both Florence Marina and Providence Canyon, this housekeeping team goes above and beyond their call of duty. Julie Cox, Lori Nicholson and Bernice Bolden set a great example of teamwork, public service and exemplary hospitality for cottage guests. For five weeks after Hurricane Michael, they maintained 15 cabins used by debris team crews. They proactively make sure problems are fixed before being reported by guests, and they routinely get compliments about clean campground restrooms.
Golf Course Superintendent of the Year – Rob Greer from Brazell’s Creek at Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park
Rob Greer came on board after the course had operated for more than six months without a superintendent and had just completed a major irrigation upgrade. Under his guidance, staff was able to greatly improve conditions and repair long-idle equipment. Being a member of the American Footgolf League, he next designed an approved AFGL 18-hole foot golf course at the park. He and his staff worked in advance of the opening to educate regular golfers on the sport, ensuring the two user groups could play with no conflict.