Lead ranger has been in parks his whole life
Childhood Spent in Texas State Parks
After spending his childhood growing up in state parks, the lead ranger of Ray Roberts Lake State Park’s Isle du Bois Unit leads his rangers with years of experience and passion to spare.
A second-generation park ranger, Sam Knox learned firsthand from an early age what a demanding and unpredictable profession it can be. Knox lived in several different state parks throughout his childhood where his father worked as a park superintendent for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Since accepting a seasonal position with the TPWD in his college years, Knox has worked with the department for 15 years. A deep understanding of the profession and a passion for the job allowed him to step into his role as a park ranger with conviction.
Now in his second year as the lead ranger at the Isle du Bois Unit, Knox is challenged daily by the routine operations and unforeseen obstacles that come with helping to maintain one of the state’s largest and most popular state parks.
The challenging nature of the job is one of the things he loves about it, and Knox was well prepared for the rigors of park ranger life.
“I got to see that, as a little kid, what a daily routine is like,” Knox said. “I already had that knowledge coming into the agency, and as I decided that this really is what I wanted to do … I just had a realistic perception [of the job].”
Many people have a somewhat skewed understanding of what park rangers do. For some, the job title evokes images of dramatic wildlife encounters and long hikes through evergreen forests. The reality is that most of a ranger’s time is spent performing routine maintenance and emergency repair on the park grounds. The job description is much closer to that of a handyman or tradesman than most people realize.
Ray Roberts State Park is Unique
For Knox, every day is different. Every time his phone rings, it could be one of a huge number of issues that needs his attention. It is an intense job that keeps him on his toes, but Knox said he would not have it any other way.
“A lot of times people have an inaccurate perspective on what it means to be a park ranger,” he said. “The meat and potatoes are maintenance and repair. … You’re using your electrician skills, your plumbing skills, your carpentry skills, the technical skills that we all bring to the table to get things done.”
Ray Roberts Lake State Park is somewhat unique in that it is a huge, well-preserved natural habitat that sits also less than an hour away from one of the state’s most densely populated urban centers. Some state parks are hours away from the nearest metropolitan area, requiring extensive travel planning to visit.
Nature enthusiasts from the Dallas-Fort Worth area are just a short drive away from Texas’ fourth largest state park, making it popular for people looking to spend an impromptu sunny afternoon outdoors. Knox said the daily flow of visitors is a good thing for the park, but having so many people coming in and out daily has its challenges, particularly considering the amenities the Isle du Bois Unit has to entice visitors.
Knox's Career Path
“We’ve got over 180 campsites,” he said. “Just the sheer size and volume of everything that we deal with. Having that real high visitation is a new challenge for me. It keeps things interesting, ... which is good. We want a challenge. We don’t want to be bored.”
Knox’s career path unfolded in front of him from a young age, but not everyone finds their niche the way he did. One of the things Knox said is his favorite aspect of the job is the way it beckons people of all backgrounds and skillsets. It is a profession that presents a seemingly unlimited number of problems, so it presents itself to an equal number of problem solvers. Nevertheless, anyone willing to answer the call can expect to have their limits pushed.
“Look in that mirror and make sure you can tell yourself you’re ready to work,” Knox said. “This is such a hard job. It doesn’t matter what the season is, what the weather is. You’ve got to be someone with a very good work ethic. Someone that is willing to take initiative.”