Jen Smith, Park Ranger at Clark Park Nature Center
How did you get your start as a park ranger?
I began educating the public in 1990 when I was a graduate student studying fossils. I visited a kindergarten class and talked about the newly discovered parenting behavior in duck-billed dinosaurs. I will never forget it. I was scared to death before I did it, and ecstatic afterwards! My first job as an official Ranger began here at Clark Park last year.
Why did you want to become a park ranger?
Like many rangers, I was born fascinated by nature. Being a scientist was too lonely and isolating. Educating people about nature was a perfect choice.
What are the coolest things to see and do at Clark Park?
Our Nature Center is like a museum and a zoo. We have public animal feedings from 4-4:30 on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The un-paved trails are full of native plants, birds and tracks of other animals. The Cape Fear River Trail starts at the park and has several natural waterfalls. One is behind the Nature Center. We have the only campground in the area, too. Our street, Sherman Drive, has one of the best hills for running up and down. It will get your heart racing. Plus, there are the playgrounds.
How many playgrounds are at Clark Park?
We have both the Moses Mathis “Bicycle Man” conventional playground, plus the “Loblolly Garden,” a natural play area where kids can play with cool rocks, logs, water and look for four leaf clovers. Mud pies, anyone?
I hear you have an alligator! Can you tell me more about that?
We have a juvenile American Alligator who is less than two years old. In North Carolina, alligators are a protected species. We are lucky to have a permit to keep this creature and use it to educate the public.
Why is nature so important to you?
Nature sustains humans and all other creatures. It provides perspective, comfort and intellectual stimulation, and it is a work of art, engineering and mystery.
What is your favorite thing to do outside?
Look at plants! Each one is a masterwork of art and biology, with its own uses, relationships, lore and rhythms.
What are small ways people/children/adults can protect the Earth?
When a plant or tree dies in your yard, replace it with one that is native to the area. Native plants already have relationships with insects like bees, butterflies and moths. I keep a few small black cherry trees trimmed to knee level in my yard, and I am blessed with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies almost daily.
Where is Clark Park?
Clark Park is located at 631 Sherman Drive, off of Ramsey Street. The Nature Center building is across from the Moses Mathis playground.