Meet Christopher Whittle, a Park Services Specialist at Topsail State Park
Photos: Faith Whalen
What is the coolest thing you have done as a park ranger?
I’d have to say releasing loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings. We simulated typical hatching conditions by releasing them at night near the base of the dunes. This allowed the hatchlings to crawl towards the Gulf of Mexico, stimulating their blood flow and preparing their flippers for swimming.
What do I need to do if I want to be a ranger?
If you want to become a park ranger, you need a love for park visitor’s, Florida’s history and its environment. Rangers maintain park facilities while preserving Florida’s natural habitats and historical sites and educating the public through interpretive programs.
Work experience and education requirements vary, but a wide variety of skills including maintenance, customer service, public speaking and natural resource management such as wildland fire experience are always beneficial.
Do you get to pick which park you work at?
Yes, there are a variety of different parks in Florida and you can pick what kind of park best suits your interests.
What’s the best part about being a ranger?
There are a lot of things that are great about being a ranger. My favorite things are working with children and helping to educate them about Florida’s natural resources. I also enjoy protecting the animals and their habitats found within the park. It is our duty and privilege to protect many different species of endangered animals such as the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, snowy plovers, sea turtles and black bears. I also look forward to participating in prescribed fire and witnessing the results of all the work put into maintaining our ecosystems.
What’s one question you get asked a lot?
This one: “Why do we perform prescribed fire?” Sometimes the importance of fire within Florida’s ecosystems is misunderstood. Florida is known as the lightning strike capital of the USA and most of our natural habitats are fire dependent. Fire dependent means the plant and animal species depend on fire to maintain their environment. Some plants will only bloom or release seed when exposed to fire and some animals will leave a habitat if fire is excluded from the environment.
We introduce prescribed fire to help mimic the state’s natural fire cycles. Before paved roads and housing developments lightning would strike, setting an area on fire and burning only until a natural barrier such as a swamp, river or coastline stopped the flames. This occurred on a regular cycle depending on the flammable fuel build up.
Now prescribed fire is performed by trained professionals including Park Rangers utilizing strict guidelines. Our goal is to ensure the of Florida’s citizens and their property while maintaining the natural resources.