News: Martins Fork Lake overflows with unique park ranger training advantages
Story by Leon Roberts
SMITH, Ky. – New park rangers rotate through Martins Fork Lake here on one-year assignments because the 340-acre plot of water apparently overflows with an abundance of unique training advantages.
According to Dave Robinson, resource manager at Martins Fork Lake, the lake and dam are located in a remote area of Harlan County where young people joining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District can focus on training for a career as a park ranger at this small project site, yet gain experience in a wide variety of tasks.
“I think one of the neat things about the Martins Fork project is that our staff gets to do a little bit of everything,” Robinson said.
Park rangers in training typically provide visitor assistance, work with wildlife management, and are required to complete computer-based applications. They also get to participate in water safety and regulatory programs, and even learn to make gate adjustments at the dam.
There are currently two park ranger trainees at Martins Fork Lake.
Park Ranger Spencer Taylor, who is more than halfway complete with his training, said he is glad he is able to learn the ropes at Martins Fork Lake with such a small staff. He credits his coworkers for providing him the skill sets he will need as he pursues a career with the Corps.
“We get out and do a lot with the senior leaders and resource managers, so you learn a variety of different things,” Taylor said. “This prepares you for your permanent position after your first year of training. And you’re prepared for your career with the Corps.”
Taylor stresses that one of the most important skills he’s been able to practice is interaction with the public.
“It’s very important to be able to communicate. You want to be able to get out and talk to people, talk on their level,” Taylor said. “This project was finished in 1978. So a lot of these people who use the lake were here before the project was even here. So they know a lot so being able to talk to them… I’ve been able to learn a lot. I get out and talk to fishermen and they say, ‘Well, I remember fishing before the lake was even here.’ They tell me a lot of stuff I didn’t even know.”
Park Ranger John Malone is the newest trainee at the project. He graduated from College several weeks ago and is already working closely with Taylor and getting advice about the training regimen.
Taylor said his recommendation to Malone as he enters the program is to embrace communicating with people and to build relationships with the public, which is one of the rangers’ biggest assets.
Malone did a coop program with the Nashville District at Center Hill Lake while completing college, so he’s excited about working at Martins Fork Lake and eager to get started and to learn from the staff. And he said he appreciates Taylor sharing advice from his training experiences.
“It’s just me and Spencer up here,” Malone said. “So it’s going to give me a broader scope… I’m just getting my feet wet right now, but once I get my lay of the land sort of speak I think I’ll be ready to go. It will be a good place to learn and to do the training program.”
According to Robinson, trainees at Martins Fork Lake are exposed to the uniqueness of the assignment and that assists them with their development.
The busy recreation season is about to get going and so both Taylor and Malone will get plenty of experience interacting with people recreating. The lake attracts approximately 300,000 visitors annually who take advantage of the robust fishing, boating, swimming, hiking and sightseeing.
“Our small size allows our small staff to multitask a little bit of everything. When one of us is gone we fill in and make sure things get done. It’s a really good opportunity for a ranger trainee or a park ranger to get a taste of what the entire project can do,” Robinson said.
Mark Klimaszewski, who manages the Nashville District Ranger Training Program, said new park rangers are required to have degrees in natural resources management such as forestry, agriculture, biology, wildlife management and fisheries. In addition, he said formal training during the first year of employment provides park rangers with the tools they need to assume the many responsibilities required of a professional park ranger.