After being without a chief ranger for several years, V.I. National Park officials welcomed career ranger Lloyd Morris aboard in June.
Originally hailing from the small Louisiana town of Cloutierville, Morris, 51, first learned about the National Park Service as an undergraduate at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
After accepting an internship at Voyageurs National Park in International Falls, Minnesota, Morris grew intrigued with the government agency.
“One thing is that the NPS is all about preservation and I love that aspect of it,” said the VINP’s new chief ranger. “We like to preserve things for people to see not only from previous generations, but from future generations too. We are the leaders who try to preserve areas like the VINP and Coral Reef National Monument.”
“Often when I talk to my friends, they like the pay they receive for their jobs, but they despise their jobs,” said Morris. “They don’t enjoy what they do. Most of us who work for the NPS, tend to enjoy what we do because we’re preserving and protecting something that is considered a treasure.”
After graduating from college in the late 1970s, Morris accepted a full time position at Jefferson National Historical Site, or Gateway Arch as most people know the site.
Morris then made the move to the Atlanta metropolitan area where he put in stints at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site before settling at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
Before moving to St. John, the chief ranger worked at Kennesaw Mountain since 2000, except for a five month detail as acting superintendent at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Alabama.
Morris actually declined the VINP post when it was first offered, he explained.
“I was first offered this position last August, but I turned it down because I wasn’t keen on relocating the family and everything and I didn’t think it was a good time,” said Morris. “The job was re-announced in the winter and I thought it was a good idea to give it another look. I felt like this was the place to be for the time being.”
The park ranger moved to St. John with his wife and two children in early June. Today, however, Morris lives alone since his eldest daughter returned to college in St. Louis and his wife and son moved back to Atlanta this month.
“My daughter went back to college and my wife is a real estate agent and she was here with my son as well,” said Morris. “My wife decided that the market here was more flat-lined than anything and my son, who is starting middle school, really wanted to go back to school with his friends.”
“So they’re back in Atlanta now, but they’ll be going back and forth and we’ll make it work,” Morris said. “I think I’ll be seeing a lot of family members. My family and my wife’s family all feel they have a vacation place now to take advantage of during the winter.”
While Morris had visited St. John to teach a class in the early 1990s, this is his first time living on this, or any other, island.
“This is my first time living here and it’s definitely different from visiting,” he said. “It’s been very informative so far with minor challenges. When you are used to having a Wallmart within an eighth of a mile of your house, like my home in Atlanta, it is easy to get anything you need.”
“Here you have to go to St. Thomas once a month and supplies take a few days longer to get,” said the new VINP chief ranger.
Despite the difficult shopping routine, Morris didn’t think his professional duties were much different than when he was working stateside.
“Job-wise, really it’s much the same,” said Morris. “Everybody wants what they want and they want it now. That mentality still exists, but the time frame and the way of getting things done is a little different because of how it’s more difficult to get supplies.”
As the VINP’s chief ranger, Morris’ primary responsibility is visitor safety, he explained.
“Each and every visitor who comes to the park, we want to make sure they have a safe and enjoyable experience,” said Morris. “One of the biggest challenges we face is dealing with parking. Dealing with the number of cars and people who come to the park and the limited the amount of space we have is the challenge.”
“We’re going to have to try to work out some agreements within the framework of the community to see what can be achieved,” he said. “We’re not going to cut down trees and pave a parking lot and the cars are going to continue to come, so we have look at different alternatives.”
Morris also oversees the fee staff and lifeguards at Trunk Bay and is looking forward to meeting more people in the community. Getting used to island life can take some time, but with the peak of hurricane season around the corner, Morris needs to get his bearings quickly.
“I am praying for no storms at least this year,” said the VINP chief ranger.
Despite being away from his family, Morris is enjoying his time on St. John, and the local cuisine.
“Life is constantly changing,” he said. “When I left Atlanta to move here, people said, ‘do you really want to move way down there,’” Morris said. “But I didn’t see it like that. It’s just another spot in the country that I hadn’t worked before. And now mangoes, passion fruit, conch and fungi have become the new additions to my diet.”