SEVEN SPRINGS — Visitors to Cliffs of the Neuse State Park will see three new faces.
The state park has two new rangers and a new maintenance and construction technician.
Will Morris, 24, is a park ranger I. He’s the lead interpretive and education ranger, which puts him in charge of coordinating school field trips and setting up the various programs the park offers each month.
“I love to give a program on a subject that I’m passionate about,” he said. “I’ve done a couple on tree identification, which I really enjoy. I love taking my knowledge and understanding of that and dispensing it onto someone else.”
Morris schedules programs for both children and adults and firmly believes that anybody can go to the Cliffs and learn something. The state park is located at 240 Park Entrance Road near Seven Springs.
Morris said he really likes the variety in his job, along with being able to work in an outdoor setting, which he describes as “blissful.”
Morris is in the process of updating some of the exhibits at the visitor center.
“I’m working on getting an aquarium so we can have a living component in our wonderful museum to grab the kids’ and adults’ attention,” he said. “And they can see the creatures that are a little bit inaccessible to them while they might be on the trail, some of the aquatic creatures.”
The Cliffs of the Neuse is the first state park where Morris has worked. He went to North Carolina State University for wildlife biology. His first job was with Raleigh Parks and Recreation.
“I really fell in love with that because it’s a huge variety, interacting with natural resources, giving programs, interacting with visitors and getting to see the system from the inside,” Morris said.
From there, he came to Cliffs of the Neuse.
Autumn Hamm, park ranger II, is no stranger to the Cliffs, having worked there four years before moving back to her native Maryland in 2016 with her fiancé.
“We thought we wanted to start everything up there,” the 30-year-old said. “We got married and decided that Maryland is a great place to visit, but we’d rather live down here. And I missed the park.”
They returned to North Carolina, and Hamm became a ranger at Falls Lake State Recreation Area for about a year before coming back to the Cliffs.
“I really missed being part of a community park,” she said.
As park ranger II, Hamm supervises two other rangers, and she’s the lead law enforcement ranger.
“I’ve also been very involved with trails lately,” she said. “We’ve been working on reroutes. Since the last hurricane, we lost part of the Bird Trail on the cliffs side. It kind of fell off, so we’ve had to bump the trail in. We still have to move the fence in to get it as safe as we possibly can for park visitors. And we’ve been replacing stairs at the Spanish Moss Trail.”
Hamm’s favorite part of the job is interacting with people who come to the park. And she enjoys helping with the programs. She has plans to restart the Park Pals program during the summer.
She is a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as an environmental science major. From high school through college, she worked seasonally at a Maryland state park. Her father was a Maryland state ranger.
“So I kind of grew up thinking I was going to be a park ranger,” Hamm said.
Seth Windley is the new maintenance/construction technician I at the Cliffs.
His duties involve a little bit of everything, from clearing the facilities, being in charge of hazardous tree removal, cutting trees, construction and repairing buildings and fences.
The 33-year-old grew up in Washington, N.C., and after graduating from community college, began working at Goose Creek State Park, where he worked for the next 10 years as a seasonal employee.
Then he worked with a rafting company in the mountains before coming back to this part of the state and being hired as crew leader for the state parks fire crew, based at Cliffs of the Neuse. After doing that for five years, he was hired as the maintenance and construction technician.
“I love to cut a dead tree,” Windley said. “I’m just really good at it, I guess. It’s my expertise.
“Cutting trees is dangerous, especially dead trees. Dead trees are good to have in the park, but if they’re located close to roads or trails, then they become a hazard to the public. When cutting dead trees, the top’s already dead and they can easily break out. If the wood is spongy and soft, when you cut on it, it can crunch down and fall in whatever crazy direction you don’t want it to fall.”
Windley said the best part about his job is that it’s completely outdoors.
“All of my jobs have been outdoors, I have never had an indoor job,” he said. “I just love being outside in nature and meeting people coming to the park. This job is definitely a stress reliever for sure.”
Morris, Hamm and Windley are part of a team that’s hoping to make the Cliffs park of the year in 2019.
The state park is more than 1,000 acres, with hiking trails, picnic areas, areas to fish and camp and a swim lake. The park also offers activities for the public throughout the year.