As a boy growing up in the small town of Seneca, S.C., Scott Kelley lived an idyllic childhood in an aquatic paradise: Between Lake Keowee to the north and Hartwell Lake to the east and south, he spent much of his summers in and around the water.
With his passion for the outdoors permanently imprinted, Kelley went to Clemson University knowing he didn’t want a desk job. He majored in natural resource management. At a college career fair, he noticed one of the presentations featured several pictures of Hartwell Lake. “I asked the presenter: ‘What do you do on the lake?’” Kelley remembered. “He said: ‘Well, we manage the land with the Corps of Engineers.’”
At the time, Kelley had never heard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – but he knew he had found his career. While completing his degree at Clemson, he worked for a summer as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger at Hartwell Lake, and joined the staff full time after graduating in 1999. Today, he’s the chief ranger of the shoreline management team at Hartwell Lake, directing the Shoreline Management Program at the lake he’s loved all his life.
Despite the fact that USACE’s park rangers are the organization’s most visible ambassadors, most people who visit the organization’s 4,200 recreation sites annually don’t make the connection between USACE and the friendly uniformed people who patrol the waters and adjoining lands.
As the field agents of USACE’s recreation program, its park rangers have two primary responsibilities: promoting and protecting public safety, and practicing good stewardship of the public lands in their care.
A Love of Nature – and People
Those two responsibilities, on public lands that receive more than 370 million visits a year, are neither simple nor easy – but USACE’s park rangers have an unusual affinity for both people and the outdoors. In his nearly 15-year career, Kelley has filled several roles at Hartwell Lake, one of the Southeast’s largest and most popular lakes – in a single year, in fact, Hartwell, which straddles the South Carolina/Georgia border, sees about 10 million visitors to its public parks, marinas, and campgrounds, making it USACE’s third-most popular recreation site.
Kelley began at Hartwell Lake as a park ranger in charge of the campground program, visiting with the public every day, and keeping facilities in safe and working order. Park rangers at USACE reservoirs, along with many private organizations and community volunteers, maintain a dogged focus on the organization’s Water Safety Program. Many rangers log thousands of hours interacting with the public, on patrol, or at various sponsored events, to urge the use of life jackets and educate people about water and boating safety. At the same time, they form the front line in protecting natural resources under their jurisdiction. In the Sacramento District (Calif.), for example, because rangers are the backbone of the everyday staff at 10 recreation sites, they have served as managers and monitors for mussel-detection stations throughout the district. The stations, designed to collect invasive zebra and quagga mussels, were placed as part of California’s Invasive Species Program.
After several years serving in the lake’s recreation section, Kelley spent four years as a contract administrator, coordinating with outside contractors who performed services – janitorial, landscaping, construction, and emergency work such as storm response – to ensure quality and timeliness. Today, directing the Shoreline Management Program at Hartwell Lake, he and seven rangers interact daily with the people who own adjacent property, operate lease sites, and work along the lake’s 962 miles of shoreline.
“The Corps mission is that we are given stewardship of land and water to manage to the best of our abilities for the public good,” Kelley said. “We manage permitted facilities – boat docks, walkways, light poles, and things of that nature – in that ring around the lake, and everything we do is based on the concept of protecting the resource: keeping it as natural as possible and keeping it public land.”