By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Cut and style? Not this park ranger. Heather Rice gave up a five-year cosmetology career for a chance to work in the great outdoors of her home state. The 38-year-old is the new park superintendent at Pinnacle Rock State Park on Route 52 in between Bluewell and Bramwell.
“It took me awhile to get around to what I wanted to do in life,” she said, as she watched about 50 fisherman cast their lines in the Jimmy Lewis Lake.
She also has a medical transcription degree and a four-year degree from Concord University in parks and recreation. She started her current career as park aide in the conference center at Pipestem Resort State Park.
“I just wanted my foot in the door,” she admitted.
She set up tables and chairs until Pipestem State Park Superintendent Dave Caplinger asked her to volunteer for the police academy. To become a park ranger or superintendent in West Virginia, the state requires individuals to attend the police academy. Rice was one of two females in the class. She spent seven weeks at the academy and returned to her job at Pipestem.
“I was the only one who volunteered to go,” Rice said.
After three weeks, she was hired as an assistant park superintendent at Cabwayllingo State Forest, where she spent 10 months before accepting the position at Pinnacle Rock State Park in February. Rice replaced Frank Ratcliffe, who was promoted to park superintendent at Camp Creek State Park.
Since February, she has been busy handling law enforcement matters, performing daily routines and keeping up with park maintenance. She is looking forward to the 2012 season, which opens in early April. She plans to hire two employees to help with the summer workload. There is a lot to take care, she said.
Pinnacle Rock State Park was established in 1938, through the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program. The program trained unskilled workers to perform public work projects across the country. In West Virginia, Pinnacle Rock, Tomlinson Run and Holly River are all results of the program. Twenty-six acres were set aside for the park.
In the ’60s, property was bought to build a man-made lake, now called the Jimmy Lewis Lake.
“The Manpower Development Training Act trained unemployed coal miners to become heavy equipment operators,” said District Administrator for the Division of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Robert Beanblossom.
Decades later, the park acquired even more land from the rock to the lake. According to a press release from Beanblossom, the acquisition doubled the size of the park. The entire area, including the lake, is nearly 400 acres. Projects such as a picnic shelter, hiking trails, ADA accessible facilities and more have been completed in the park. Beanblossom said 35,000-45,000 people visit each year. The park is famous for the sandstone rock formation that reaches 3,100 feet above sea level.
According to Beanblossom, Rice is currently one of four women park superintendents in the state. Some folks have remarked she is doing a man’s job, but Rice doesn’t see it that way.
“I feel like I am made for this job,” she said.
Beanblossom agrees with Rice.
“Women are just as capable, professional and committed to the job,” he said.
He also added an unusual story about women’s roles in the park service. According to Beanblossom, during World War II a male park ranger took another job with higher pay but didn’t turn in a notice. Instead, his wife picked up his duties and filed the paperwork. After they were discovered, the state hired the woman to officially take care of the park.
Rice has yet to experience any negativity because of her gender. As she walks around the lake, local fishermen stop to chat. Rice inspects their catch.
“I am a big fisherman,” she admits.
A native of Sophia, Rice is happy to be closer to family. She said many park superintendents are placed in different parks, away from home. Her family often comes to the lake to fish.
“I really like this area,” she said. “The rock is really unique and people travel from miles away to see it. I also love meeting new people and telling them about West Virginia State Parks. The scenery is beautiful and there is a lot of good people in West Virginia.”
— Contact Jamie Parsell at