Jennifer Heisey Barnhart has always loved the outdoors so it is only logical that all of her jobs have been working outdoors. Jennifer currently works for the Andrew Pickens Ranger District on the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. She is a fairly new employee of four years for the U.S. Forest Service, but the experience she brings to her natural resources specialist job in recreation is many years strong.
How did you get started with your natural resource career?
I started working for state parks in Pennsylvania at a young age and that’s where I learned to appreciate the outdoors. I was involved in my high school’s environmental club competing in envirothons. In college, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in natural resources recreation with a minor in forestry and then went on for a master’s degree in natural resources management for recreation. I also continued to work while pursuing both degrees.
After graduate school, I took a job with the Green Mountain Club, a non-profit partner with the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, as a backcountry caretaker. I was living in the woods solo for four months out of the year. I would be out for five days straight, only to come out for 48 hours and then go back. I was performing trail maintenance and educating hikers on Leave No Trace when they would come through on the Long Trail which is co-aligned with the Appalachian Trail. That was the only interaction I had with the outside world until I went out to restock on food and shower. It is one of my favorite jobs ever.
I’ve also worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club as an outdoor recreation planner and with Virginia State Parks as a district resource specialist. The U.S. Forest Service hired me as a full-time permanent employee on the Calcasieu Ranger District as their natural resources specialist for recreation. I had been applying for years and years because it was my ultimate goal to get in with the Forest Service. I am really excited to be working for the agency and very thankful to the Calcasieu Ranger District who gave me my start. I recently took the same position with the Andrew Pickens Ranger District on the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina, which includes the management of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River and the Ellicott Rock Wilderness.
What or who has had the greatest influence on your life?
I wouldn’t say one person, but instead will focus on what gave me the drive to work hard. I came from a blue-collar family and was the first person in my family to go to college. I was very driven to get a degree and somehow I ended up getting my master’s degree – which was awesome. I was determined to keep working hard and moving up, always trying to set goals and be able to accomplish them. So, I think my biggest influence is coming from a hard working blue-collar family.
As a child, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I started working as a teenager for Pennsylvania State Parks. I knew I was into the environment, enjoyed the outdoors and always wanted to help protect it. Once I figured out I could go to school and get a degree in forestry, wildlife or recreation, I finally narrowed it down to natural resources recreation. So yes, I knew early where I was headed.
I based my answer on where I grew up which was close to the Appalachian Trail, surrounded by state forests and state parks, not national forests. But I had an upbringing in a beautiful area and that really influenced me.
If you could be or do anything else, what would it be?
I would run a non-profit organization related to promoting outdoor recreation amongst youth and families.
Since you’ve only been working on a forest for about four years, have you had any opportunity to tackle a big project dealing with a recreation area?
There are all kinds of major repairs and daily crises. We did have a major event happen just before Thanksgiving several years ago that I was involved in. Our Louisiana campgrounds are very popular in the state because our developed campgrounds have water and electric. We generally fill our 41 sites completely each year at Thanksgiving. It was close to the end of the day when the water pump completely shut down. I had to immediately figure out who I could get before a holiday to repair or put in a new pump. I was desperate, but I was able to call our local town’s water system and they gave me a contact.
Thankfully, a repair person was able to come out on short notice and actually fix the pump. I had to get approvals on very short notice and we all worked on Thanksgiving trying to repair the site for campers to have water to cook their turkeys. That was a big deal for me, being fairly new in the agency, trying to communicate with the campground hosts and campers while keeping them calm and informed of all of the developments.
Another big accomplishment was increasing the volunteer program on the Calcasieu District. I was able to partner with a lot of different organizations such as the Kisatchie Bicycle Club and our mountain biking community to do trail work for us. The mountain bikers re-blazed an entire tail system. The trail system was re-marked in the hopes of becoming more user-friendly. I also co-coordinated National Get Outdoors Day in June 2013. We were able to have local organizations donate their time and materials to lead mountain bike rides, yoga demonstrations, kayaking, and hikes to an awesome eagles’ nest. Everything was free for the community to come and enjoy.
If you could meet and greet some famous people in history, who would they be?
I guess one person would be John Muir. I learned about him in my conservation classes and he seemed interesting, traveling all over the country trying to preserve different natural public lands that we have today. In late 2013, Gifford Pinchot’s home, Grey Towers celebrated its 50th anniversary. Both Muir and Pinchot were great conservationists in the Roosevelt era.
Another person folks may not know is “Molly Pitcher” from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She was the first woman to set foot on the battle ground in the Revolutionary War. She would give pitchers of water to the men and when one of the men went down, she actually took over the cannon. She was very interesting and I learned about her when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. She is actually buried in my hometown. Revolutionary War buffs might have heard of her.
Do you have any hobbies?
I’m super into outdoor recreation. I’m a mountain biker, runner, cyclist and a swimmer. In the past two years, I’ve competed in triathlons. In the summer of 2012, I competed in my first Ironman competition at Lake Placid up in the Adirondacks. It took me about 14 hours to complete the whole race – a mere 140.6 miles! I was actually able to train on the Calcasieu Ranger District’s trails in the winter and on the roads around the Kisatchie National Forest in the summer. It’s a great hobby for me, but also beneficial to work on the forest, be outdoors and to be able to easily do that right outside your office.
What do you like about working for the Forest Service?
I love that I’m able to do what I’m obviously passionate about in my personal life: being outdoors and loving recreation, having access to public land and being able to be a manager in that area. I’m happy that I can make positive contributions to the community by making sure the recreation areas and trails are managed to meet high standards and tax payers can directly see and experience these benefits.
I say this to my employees because a lot of them don’t realize that their shoulders are holding up the weight of the public’s image of the national forests. Recreation areas and trails are what the public directly experience regularly and that reflects back on our image. The public doesn’t necessarily directly see the positives of what’s going on in the timber, wildlife and fire programs. So we’re the ones holding it on our shoulders to make sure that the public views what the Forest Service does as beneficial and important.