Ask a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers what they like most about their job and you will likely get a response about being outdoors in nature and the freedom of not being stuck behind a desk every day.
One of the more unique positions within USACE Kansas City District, park rangers, or Natural Resource Specialists as they are officially known, are responsible for developing wildlife conservation activities, managing environmental programs and supporting recreation through public safety, much of which is done in the great outdoors.
However, once a year the park rangers with the Kansas City District gather at a Natural Resource Management Workshop for a couple of days to discuss programs, participate in required annual training, and problem solve during an open forum. More than anything, this annual workshop allows the park rangers an opportunity to come together in one location to reconnect with their teammates and talk shop. This year’s workshop was held in Bolivar, Missouri, from Jan. 23-26.
This year’s Natural Resource Management Workshop also provided the perfect setting to announce the winner of the 2022 Ranger of the Year Award. The Ranger of the Year Award is a peer award and is given to the park ranger who goes above and beyond the normal expected performance of a Kansas City District park ranger.
As the name implies, award winners are nominated and chosen by their peers within the Natural Resource Section of the Kansas City District every other year. Originally, the Ranger of the Year Award was awarded in three separate categories but was changed to one category in 2014.
Park rangers are presented with three anonymous award justifications and then submit their vote for who they believe should win the award. Winners at the district level are then nominated as part of the USACE-wide Natural Resource Management Program Award.
“Everyone sends in their nominations … and they [the park rangers] get to vote on which writeup they feel is the most deserving of the award,” said Kylie Ward, natural resource management specialist and organizer of the 2022 Peer Ranger Recognition Award for the Kansas City District.
Presenting the award at the annual Natural Resource Management Workshop allows the park rangers of the Kansas City District, who work at various lake projects throughout Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, the chance to formally recognize one of their teammate’s hard work and dedication while everyone is together in one location.
The winner of the 2022 Ranger of the Year Award was Larry Smith, natural resource team lead at Harry S Truman Lake. Smith started his career with USACE over 32 years ago and will be retiring later this year. Smith has worked at Harry S Truman Lake since 1996.
As stated in his nomination justification, Smith “stands up for what he feels is right for himself, his coworkers, this agency and the public at all times. We at Truman truly feel that Larry’s vast knowledge, hard work and dedication are what’s holding us together.”
Nominated by the Harry S Truman Lake park rangers, Smith is known to work tirelessly, often increasing his workload during times of staff shortages. He regularly volunteers to work weekend shifts so his staff can have more family time, while maintaining a positive attitude. Smith continuously encourages his staff and assists with their professional development.
“It’s an honor and I appreciate my peers in the district for the recognition,” said Smith when asked how he felt about being nominated and picked to win the award.
While the mission will continue, the Kansas City District and those who work and recreate at Harry S Truman Lake will certainly miss Smith’s leadership and passion for the job. Winning the 2022 Peer Ranger Recognition Award is a fitting tribute to Smith and his 32 years of dedication to USACE and the Natural Resource Section.
“My focus for my entire career has been the protection and enhancement of our natural resources … but I’ll miss the people that I work with … I’ve met so many great people and the next generation will continue the mission,” said Smith.
Past winners of the Ranger of the Year Award for the Kansas City District include Derek Dorsey, Kyle Ruona, Lester Tacha, Ryan Williams, Samantha Jones and Erin Cordrey.