The man who led South Carolina’s State Parks for the past 13 years spent his final day on the job at the same park where he began his career.
Parks Director Phil Gaines dodged rain Thursday at Kings Mountain State Park near Blacksburg to clean bathrooms, remove weeds and pick up trash — the same responsibilities he had when he started working there as a ranger in 1982.
“I thought it’d be powerful for me if I could go full-circle and end my career where I started it,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Gaines is credited with helping revive a parks system which had begun to show its age in the early 2000s. He said much of that was due to empowering the various park superintendents to improve customer service and promotion, in addition to investing in repairs to old buildings and improving the options for visitors. The agency also put more focus on hiring naturalists and historians to better catalog and present state resources.
The focus on greater self-sufficiency helped the Park Service grow from generating $18 million revenue in 2005 to $27 million in 2018. More significantly, the growth helped pay for 95 percent of the service’s current operational costs. The growth was driven by greater focus on making the parks attractions appealing to visitors, rather than assets to be preserved.
“Phil is leaving the Park Service in much better shape than it was when he took over in 2005,” South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (SCPRT) Director Duane Parrish said in a release. “His amazing feat is eclipsed only by the amazing person that he is. A person whose insight, intuition and passion left an incredible legacy, one that we will continue to build from.”
Gaines plans to take a job as a strategic leadership professor at his alma mater Clemson University. “We have a really good team in place and the next generation is ready to build on this,” he said. “It’s the right time for me. There’s some opportunities for me. I’m still young enough to pursue some of those opportunities.”
The director began his career as a Kings Mountain State Park technician in 1982. One year later, he became the first superintendent of the new Lake Wateree State Park outside Winnsboro, then did the same for the new Dreher Island State Park in Prosperity before moving to manager at Santee State Park. Gaines was eventually promoted to an Operations Specialist in the Park Service’s central office in Columbia. In 2000, he was named assistant director and then promoted to director five years later.