Watching the parks

Published 7:47 pm Monday, May 21, 2012

Candace Edwards' favorite parts of her job are being outdoors and interacting with people.

Things are never boring for a park ranger.

Candace Edwards walks slowly around Sleepy Hole Park, keeping a close eye on trashcans and bathrooms.

She eyes dogs to make sure they’re on leashes, checks the trailheads that dot the park’s paved walking path and keeps a close eye out for litter. There’s none in sight.


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Edwards is a park ranger for Suffolk Parks and Recreation. Based at Sleepy Hole Park, she occasionally gets called to other parks also. Her favorite, she admits, is Lone Star Lakes, because it has more wildlife.

It’s the perfect job for someone who grew up hunting, fishing and hiking on her family’s farm near Marion, a small town in Southwest Virginia. The job is a combination of caring for the land and interacting with people, while still having the chance to do some small repair and carpentry projects.

“This really fits my personality, because it’s a mix of maintenance and environmental education,” she said.

Though being a park ranger might seem simple enough, the 28-year-old Edwards juggles dozens of projects that must be completed at the park. She keeps them all straight on a dry-erase board with color-coded checks, dots and X’s to mark off the ones she and her staff have completed — things like ordering supplies, finishing gardens and repairing fences.

There are some projects that are never complete, though. Emptying trash, cleaning the bathrooms and checking the park are daily or even hourly tasks, and the grass keeps growing, even after it’s mowed.

“It’s a lot of mowing,” she said, adding it takes about 18 man-hours to mow the entire park. “We try to time it so we get everything mowed toward the end of the week, so it’s looking its best for the weekend.”

That’s because the weekend is the peak time for park visits in Suffolk. But even on this springtime weekday, there are several people walking around the park, some with dogs.

The leash law is the park rule most frequently violated, Edwards said, but even that doesn’t cause much trouble. Most people put their dogs back on a leash when asked, she said.

Unfortunately, most of the creatures in the park don’t have to comply with a leash law.

“Bug spray is a definite every morning,” she said. “I keep a well-stocked cabinet of bug spray. I’ve had to really grow as a person getting used to ticks being on me all the time.”

Other than applying bug spray each morning, Edwards doesn’t have a set daily routine. She works from 7 to 4 each day, but does even her daily tasks in a different order to make each day different. But one thing that never changes — besides the bug spray — is her dread of emptying the trash on a hot summer day.

Fortunately, the job comes with perks as well — things like working with children in Tiny Tykes, Outdoor Adventure Kamp, Earth Day activities, the Children’s Learning Garden and other programs.

“I’m a people person, so it’s nice to meet different people and hear about how they perceive the park,” she said.