As a native Jackson Countian, Chuck Hatcher is no stranger to anyone who has ever visited any of the natural parks or recreational areas in the panhandle. He was Director of Parks, Recreation and Recycling for Jackson County prior to taking the state level job of Assistant Director of the Florida State Parks’ District Office.
Hatcher discussed the Florida Parks Service and its incredible accomplishments that it has achieved. They are a three time Gold Medal Winner of the most outstanding Park Service in the nation. Hatcher said, “We manage over 800,000 acres of land and manage over 100 miles of beaches. We are also leaders in the Park Industry in Concession Operations and public private partnerships. We generate $68.5 million in revenue and our operating budget is about $80 million. We also have a $2.8 billion economic impact to the State of Florida.
Hatcher is responsible for the day to day operation of all 174 state parks and 1,500 staff and nearly 28,000 volunteers. They also have over 80 CSO’s. Hatcher says, “We have an awesome management team and even have another person from Jackson County, Jerri French, formerly Jerri Henderson, who is Program Coordinator in the Director’s Office. She along with the other staff in central office are amazing.”
Hatcher talked about the outstanding job that our park staff were able to accomplish during and after Hurricane Matthew, “We had over 29 strike teams that deployed during and after the storm. Their job was to get the Florida State Parks back open for business. Initially we had 95 parks closed the day before the storm that number dropped to 65 the morning of the storm, then to 35 that afternoon, then to 24 day after then to three on Monday. We asked our staff “we don’t know where you will be going, we don’t know where you be sleeping, and we don’t know how long you will be gone. Who wants to volunteer”? We had over 100 rangers and Park Managers volunteer to go. That’s because of our “Ranger First” attitude. That is putting service over self! We had the red, white, and the blue teams. We had the gold, silver, and bronze teams. Then we had diamond and sapphire teams. I was so amazed at the dedication and leadership that we have in the Florida Park Service. I told the group that I had been Ranger First all of my life, but just didn’t know it! That is the way that I have lived my life and now I have a great organization that instills that with all of our 1,500 staff! I said that I had the best job in Jackson County when I worked as Parks and Recycling Director for Jackson County! Now I have the best job in the state as the Assistant Director for Field Operations for the Florida Parks Service.”
In closing Hatcher talked about working alongside of Governor Rick Scott after Hurricane Hermine, “I had the opportunity to have a picture made with him. I told him that I was the Assistant Director of the Florida Parks Service and he said that “he loved Florida State Parks and that he takes his grandkids there all of the time”. He said “we have the best park system in the country.” I respectfully disagreed with him and said “No, sir. We have the best parks service in the world. If we are the best in the country that makes us the best in the world.” He smiled and agreed.”