So far, this spring has been remarkably mild, with an almost unbelievably glorious mixture of warm, sunny days and just enough rain to keep everything outdoors looking beautiful. I hope that in saying so I haven’t just condemned us to a streak of recording-breaking heat, but to express my thankfulness, I’ll take my chances!
With such beautiful weather (75 degrees at lunchtime on Friday!), we’ve experienced an unusually high volume of visitors for June. This week alone has brought people to the gardens from Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia—and of course, from all over SC. In the hopes that these splendid days will continue for at least a little while longer, I’d like to introduce you to a very important part of our city parks system—our outstanding Park Patrol.
You’ve probably seen them, walking the grounds at Swan Lake and our other city parks, cruising through in the patrol trucks, or in the case of the energetic Ranger Lane, zipping through the grounds on a Segue. These dedicated gentlemen work hard to keep our parks safe, and also to provide information for visitors. I spoke recently with Ranger Blackmon and Ranger McLeod about what they do, and their enjoyment was obvious.
First of all, Swan Lake isn’t the only place that they patrol. Their daily route encompasses all of the major city parks, the Palmetto Tennis Center, City of Sumter Aquatics Center and all three HOPE Centers. They also serve as events attendants at a number of city-owned rental facilities. But as Blackmon says, “We spend as much time as possible at Swan Lake. We enjoy talking to all the visitors and consider them our customers while in the park.” While one of their duties is to monitor the gardens’ six 911 call boxes, Blackmon says with a smile that “we’ve never had anything but false alarms. Sometimes children get carried away with the Talking Tree boxes, and they push the next button that comes along.” However, in the unlikely event that it’s necessary, the rangers can quickly arrange for police or emergency services.
Ranger McLeod is a new face on the staff, having started just this week. It was pouring rain his first day on the job, but he was good natured about getting soaked, saying that it gave him time to “learn the mechanics.” With a degree from USC and a background in park service that includes Woods Bay and Poinsett State Parks, he looks forward to working with many of Swan Lake’s 500,000 annual visitors. “We provide history and nature interpretation,” he says, “and I’m excited about getting to spend time with people. I really enjoy the outdoors.”
For park regulars, the rangers can quickly become friends as well, as evidenced by a framed menu on display in the park’s Iris Market. “The Paul Wright Special,” commemorates a beloved staff member whom we sadly lost in 2011. There is also a permanently installed park bench dedicated in Ranger Wright’s memory, lakeside in the Heath gardens, his favorite area of the park. More than a year later, Wright’s booming laugh and distinctive deep voice as he announced daily park closings are well remembered. “We still miss Paul,” Ranger Blackmon says. “I wanted to call the special ‘The “Wright” Stuff,’ because he really had it!”
With this kind of energy and dedication, the Park Patrol is a valued and extremely important part of the Tourism staff. The next time you’re in the park, get to know them!