Thompson leaving park for new post

Published 3:56 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Kelley Thompson, superintendent of Goose Creek State Park, is leaving that post for a similar post at Haw River State Park.
Her official last day is Friday, but she has decided to operate the park’s bubble station Saturday during the Bath Fest celebrations.
“This is the first time I’ve really been sad to leave a place,” said Thompson, who previously worked at Jones Lake State Park and Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. “The staff has been great. It’s been really fun, and I’ve really enjoyed working here, especially with the educational programs.”
Thompson became superintendent at Goose Creek in December 2004, and one of her first goals was to reach out to the local community with a series of nature-themed programs suitable for all ages.
“The kids are the ones near and dear to my heart. I’ll definitely miss the little ones,” said Thompson, who hosted her final Tots Discovery program during the park’s Spring Fest on May 1. “And I’m really going to miss Critter Camp and Camp Wannagoma, which we’ve done with Beaufort County 4-H. I had just as much fun as the kids did in the camps.”
Campers gave Thompson her nickname of “Super Kelley.”
Thompson was born in Knoxville, Tenn., but her family moved to Chapel Hill when she was 11 years old. She claims both places as “home.”
A love of the outdoors led her to study natural-resources management at Western Carolina University. She honed her skills while working nine years with a white water-rafting company before becoming a park ranger in 1994.
A high point of her stint at Goose Creek has been the relationship with members of the Friends of Goose Creek, volunteers who donate man hours and raise funds for the park.
“Our Friends group is very supportive. If not for them, we wouldn’t have a wonderful fleet of kayaks and all the special events they fund here,” Thompson said. “They do the holiday open house, Spring Fest and all the educational programs. If we didn’t have the Friends, we would not be able to do all the programs that we do, bottom line.”
Thompson isn’t taking much of a break between assignments. She’ll report Monday for her first full day at Haw River State Park. That park is located just north of Goldsboro, near Brown’s Summit.
“Haw River is the first overnight environmental education center for state parks,” Thompson said. “A lot of school groups stay three or four nights. There’s a dining hall with a chef, sous chef and cook.”
The park’s conference center was originally a retreat for the Episcopal diocese, according to Thompson. It’s been part of the state parks system since 2005, and it offers a variety of amenities such as a swimming pool, gym, tennis courts and cabins. At any given time, there are accommodations for nearly 200 people, including a group of long, narrow cabins designed to look like train cars, Thompson added.
Haw River also has educational facilities for first-responders and search-and-rescue personnel. Park rangers and maintenance staff from across North Carolina train there.
While Haw River State Park is, in essence, a conference center for now, the next stage is to incorporate more traditional features found in a state park, Thompson said. For example, she’ll be involved in designing trails and the general layout of the park. She also plans to “shadow” her staff, enabling her to learn everything from how the chef cooks for a group of 120 teenagers to how to keep the swimming pool clean.
After Thompson leaves Goose Creek State Park, Kevin Bischof will be acting superintendent until a new one is hired. Thompson was unsure of the time frame for that post to be filled.