Park of the Month: First Landing State Park
One Journey on the Road to a Career in Virginia State Parks
I remember the day clearly when Jennifer Huggins arrived for her job interview at First Landing State Park. As a college freshman, she was poised, well-spoken, and enthusiastic.Her keen interest in education and the outdoors was apparent during our meeting.
From Park Interpreter to Chief Ranger, Jennifer Huggins has worked her way up the state parks career path
Normally I don't hire staff directly for the parks, but that year I was tasked with hiring someone to take charge of the educational programming and summer schedules due to some full-time staffing shortages. We needed someone who was going to hit the ground running. Virginia State Park nearing 1.8 million visitors a year–who ever took the job would need buckets of energy and the ability to work independently!
She hit the ground running! And she has never stopped!
Jennifer completed a B.S. in Biology and a M.A. in Teaching Secondary Education at JFirst Landing State Park. I was afraid we would lose her to the public school system after graduation, but she stayed with us transitioning to year-round work.
Jennifer Huggins (far left) at the grand opening of the new Trail Center at First Landing State Park. (Staff left to right: Jennifer Huggins, Bruce Widener, Fred Hazelwood, Joe Elton, Charlie Whalen, Staci Martin, Kim Miller)
Jennifer said, "I have always loved the outdoors. Each day in the park is different. For some it is a place to explore, to spend time with family, or just a place to exercise But for a lucky few–it is a wonderful place to work." While becoming a teacher was her original career plan, her path took an unexpected turn the summer she started working at Virginia State Parks. She has continued on this "road less traveled."
Gaining Knowledge and Know-How on the Job
Throughout her career with Project Wild certified to learning how to care for live reptiles, amphibians, and even an owl in the park's Discovery Room. Now Jennifer is training other park staff and community members on a variety of initiatives and programs.
From former future public school teacher to hanging out with Smokey Bear, Jennifer (right) has taken the road less traveled
Currently attending Cardinal Criminal Justice Academy in Salem, Virginia, Jennifer is working on her law enforcement certifications and will graduate in June as a full Conservation Officer. Her career trajectory was from Park Interpreter to Education Specialist to Chief Ranger. Her passion for outdoor education and park operations continues to grow as she learns more and more about these "mini-cities" and their complex operations.
Her Favorite Programs
After graduation from law enforcement academy, Jennifer will take over full-time supervision of a number of staff members in the educational and interpretive programming section. Putting together an interesting program schedule for our park visitors is always a challenge. Managing four weeks of Junior Ranger camps, daily program schedules, and special partnerships keeps her one her toes all year long.
Jennifer (far left) explains the types of organisms found in the surf on the Chesapeake Bay during the "What's in the Nets?" program
She said, "There are so many good programs, but my favorites are those where the visitors gets to interact with organisms living in the park.here for a full program schedule. Additional programs will be added as schedules and hiring is completed.
What the Future Holds
Jennifer has some great new programs and projects in the works. Including renovation and re-opening of the Chesapeake Bay Center Bay Lab. Once completed, this area will feature aquariums, touch tables, and special programs about the unique features of the Chesapeake Bay and the human impacts on this dynamic ecosystem.
Jennifer Huggins explain turtles to a group of teens at First Landing State Park. This image was featured on the cover of our 2014 Virginia State Parks brochure.
While she is at law enforcement academy, Jennifer is managing the programming from afar with the help of some great part-time staff members. Staff members use their creative energies and personal knowledge to dream up interesting programs for park visitors, school groups, and special events. While 2015 is somewhat of a transition and training year for Jennifer, I have a feeling she has some great things planned for 2016–which also happens to be Virginia State Parks 80th anniversary!
Volunteers, like these Tree Army volunteers, are an integral part of the Virginia State Parks family
Interested in Working or Volunteering at Virginia State Parks?
full time jobs that need to be filled to keep our parks running smoothly. Whether you are just looking for a summer job or starting down your career path, think about applying with us.
You never know what the future may bring at Virginia State Parks!