Meet Your Ranger: Jonathan Polk

Hometown: Rocky Mount, NC

Education: East Carolina University majoring in Recreation and Park Management

Previous Park Experience: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Where You’ll Find Him: Lead District Ranger, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

How did you know you wanted to be a park ranger? 

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina we always visited the Outer Banks and other national and state parks. I always loved interacting with the rangers and going to ranger programs and things like that. I always really loved that aspect of my park visits, but never really thought of making a career out of it until I went to college. I went into college thinking I’d be an engineer, but then found out about the Recreation and Park Management program and thought – holy cow, this is what I have to do! This fits everything I’ve always enjoyed doing in my life. Then I was introduced to the National Park Service through one of my classes where we went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and worked alongside the park rangers. That experience is what really turned me onto working in the NPS and wanting to pursue this career. 

What do you love most about being a park ranger? 

It’s got to be interacting with visitors. Meeting people from all over the world, getting a chance to talk with them and share with them the resources that these parks have to offer. Especially here at Cape Hatteras, a park I’ve always considered home and is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s neat to get to share that passion with other people and get them more connected to their parks. The national parks belong to them – getting them to realize that and empowering them to want to help their parks going forward is an inspiring part of my job.  

I also love that you get folks who come out and say “I’ve been coming here for 30 years” which is the same for me, I’ve been coming to Cape Hatteras National Seashore since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of being on the beach right out in front of the lighthouse before it was moved. But, you also get the folks who’ve never been here before – they’ve always heard about the Outer Banks and finally get to experience it. 

One thing I notice is that people often come here thinking they’re just at the beach and don’t always realize they’re coming to a national park. They ask is a national seashore a national park? It’s fun to help them understand their parks better. 

I love every bit of being a ranger. It’s so enjoyable to meet visitors and work with great people. I really love the park service mission to protect and preserve these resources for future generations, it’s really come full circle for me now that I’ve got young kids myself. 

What is your favorite program visitors can enjoy at Cape Hatteras National Seashore? 

The program I’ve always really enjoyed in my time here is the surf fishing program – Fish with a Ranger. I grew up fishing out here, it’s always been one of my favorite things to do and getting to share that with the visitors is just a neat experience, especially with kids. Getting the future generation involved in fishing. It is such a big part of the history here in OBX. People come and see everyone with their rods on their cars and want to try their hand at it. It’s always neat for me to share that experience with them. 

What is your favorite memory interacting with a visitor? 

I would say it was at a Fish with a Ranger program I did a few years back. We had a good group of people, maybe 15-20 with a few kids there. All the sudden one of the younger girls, she was maybe 10 years old, she starts hollering and I look over and she’s holding this rod that’s just doubled over and I’m thinking – holy cow! So, I ran over and started coaching her on how to reel the line in and it was noticeable among the group that there was something going on so everyone, even other families, basically dropped what they were doing and came over. She had a whole crowd cheering her on! She finally reeled it in, and it was a 24-inch puppy drum – it was awesome. It was such a great experience, especially for her. She said, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done!” Being able to share that with her and her family and the rest of the group, it’s times like that that get people hooked on fishing and outdoor activities like that. We don’t get results like that at every program of course, so it’s really special when it happens. We do the program in the summer – twice a week at Frisco and Rodanthe. You do have to register ahead of time so we can make sure we’ve got equipment, etc. 

UP