Three Rangers Join Team
Lovers Key State Park (LKSP), just off the southern tip of Fort Myers Beach, is one of the most visited Florida State Parks, with over one million annual visitors. It is the Park Ranger Staff who must find the delicate balance between guaranteeing visitor satisfaction and conserving the site’s natural environment. Three new Park Rangers – Ryan Fox, Jade Hemberger and Kristen Peterson – all Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) graduates, recently joined the LKSP team.
Ryan is the veteran of the “newbies,” as he will celebrate his one-year anniversary at LKSP on November 7. “I am originally from North Bellmore, New York, and I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies from FGCU in 2017, with a minor in Geology. LKSP is my second assignment, as I served for about 6 months at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in Palm Beach County.”
He has a few eclectic reasons for choosing a Parks career: “I was born on Earth Day and my last name is Fox,” Ryan said with a laugh! “Even when young, science intrigued me, then I went to a four-year high school that specialized in environmental science studies, and that led to an internship at MacArthur for a year.”
Following that, Ryan became a machinist, “to learn to do as much as I could with my hands, but after a little while came a round of layoffs, so I seriously began to think about being a Park Ranger. I returned to MacArthur to experience what a ranger was like and that was it for me! My girlfriend is still in college here in the Fort Myers area, so I wanted something on this side of the State and a position opened at LKSP and I got it! My professional education continues, as I just returned from a week-long Ranger Academy program.” LKSP, however, was not unknown to him. “When at FGCU, I did monthly Naturalist activities here with field trips and teaching colloquium classes, and I did these by coincidence with Kristen, so that is how we know one-another!”
Ryan is passionate about shorebirds and seabirds, “as they are all beautiful creatures with great personalities!” He loves to go on the water and monitor manatees, especially after last year’s Red Tide water quality situation. “It is fantastic how much better the water is this year,” he stated, “as you can really see how much better all LKSP wildlife are doing now.” Ryan aims to please when it comes to the Park’s human visitors as well. “When it comes to customer service, our staff really excels. No matter what we are doing, we strive to greet you with smiles on our faces, with a welcoming attitude, so you want to ask us questions or for assistance, to learn something cool and new, as we not only want you to visit LKSP once, but again and again.”
Jade is in her second month as a LKSP Ranger, having started in August. “I am a Southwest Florida girl,” she said with a huge smile! “I am from Naples and earned my Bachelor of Marine Science Degree from FGCU, with Minors in Biology and Geology, then my Master’s in Environmental Policy & Management online from American Public University. I began my career on the regulatory side with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection doing permit compliance for about eight months, but became a Park Ranger because I needed to be outside more! I love to teach visitors about Florida’s environments and wildlife, and what we can do to protect and conserve those.”
Being a Southwest Floridian, LKSP is not new to Jade! “I not only visited here a lot over the last 20 years, but Delnor-Wiggins State Park, so both have special places in my heart! I came to the beach in high school, attended a friend’s wedding here, and who doesn’t know about the thousands and thousands of great seashells. It is so exciting to work in a place where I ran around in as a kid, and to contribute not only through education and conservation, but to help with the upcoming Welcome & Discovery Center that will break ground soon and be open to the public in 2021!”
What most motivates Jade as a member of the LKSP team? “We share a passion to keep this magnificent place as clean and safe as possible, as those are crucial to a positive visitor experience. While most LKSP visitors know all about our fantastic beach, the park is so much more than that, with boat launches and pavilions and picnic sites and hiking trails, so we need to keep everything looking nice.” Jade is currently working on new LKSP programming that will debut over the next month or two, “to teach visitors about all our different wildlife and environments, to experience all we offer. I love everything I know and am learning about LKSP, and I want to share that with others.”
Jade admires the family feeling shared by the LKSP staff. “I feel so lucky – it is a great place to work and we really are one big happy family, where everyone supports everyone else, so that is just awesome! It also helps that Kristen is brand new as well, as we really support one-another. I can’t wait to get here every single day, and it is terrific to have a career where you can say that!”
“I just passed my two-month anniversary as a LKSP Ranger this week,” smiled Kristen! “I am from Brick Township, New Jersey, but I grew up in Lakeland. I received my Environmental Studies Degree from FGCU, with a Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies and a focus in Biology, eventually becoming an OPS (Other Personnel Services) Park Ranger at Alafia River State Park in Hillsborough County, to remove invasive plant species before transferring here. Like many young kids, I started college without really knowing what I wanted to do, but then I took an Environmental Biology class that got me waist-deep into the park, then I started giving tours, so I applied for the OPS Ranger position at Alafia River and just fell in love with it!”
Like Ryan and Jade, LKSP was not a completely new experience for Kristen: “I did the Naturalist programs with Ryan, so obviously he taught me about shorebirds, as well as mangroves that are so important to the ecology of barrier islands. I work with Jade to develop new nature and education programs, and love the team aspect shared by the LKSP Staff. Our Manager, Katie Moses, ensures that the veterans take the newbies under their wings and pass along their knowledge.”
Kristen’s personal goal “is to eradicate all invasive species here, to make LKSP the most natural site in the entire State Park system. The less invasives, the more native species, the better off will be the entire park environment for people and wildlife. Everything we do and offer at Lovers Key State Park is so exciting, so c’mon out often and say ‘Hi!’”
Editor’s Note: The author is a Friends of Lovers Key State Park Board Member.