park ranger supervisor Kenneth C. Ballance never expected to be honored
with a national award for excellence in the field of rangering.
as everyone on Ocracoke knows him, received the National Park Service’s
Southeast Region Harry Yount Park Ranger Award earlier this month. It’s
a distinction awarded one ranger yearly in each of the seven regions of
the National Park Service.
didn’t know what was going on,” he said in a recent interview about
that day in the Manteo office. “In walked my supervisor,
officials, and family members. I thought, ‘Uh, oh. Something bad
was surprised with an award given in honor of the very first NPS park
great honor to get the Harry Yount Award,” he said.
whose ready smile, boundless energy, and gregarious nature have made
him an integral and cherished member of the Ocracoke community, is
modest about the honor, saying he hasn’t accomplished all that he has
wanted to as he looks toward retirement next October.
the go-to person for park issues on Ocracoke,” notes Paul Stevens, the
chief ranger for the Outer Banks Group of parks and Kenny’s boss, as
well as the person who nominated him for the award.
“Superintendent Mike Murray relies heavily on Kenny for his knowledge
of the island.”
explained that Kenny’s career path is not typical of park rangers.
unusual to have a ranger start out as a seasonal employee and work his
way up to district manager in one park as Kenny has,” Stevens said,
adding that most rangers who get to supervisory positions have to
transfer to another park.
says he had no desire to ever transfer from this warm, seashore
community, but he hoped he would still become a district supervisor.
position as a life-long resident of Ocracoke has enabled his numerous
accomplishments in 35 years of keeping the peace, aiding visitors, and
developing this most southern portion of the Cape Hatteras National
has assisted in the creation of the bike lanes on Highway 12, the
sidewalks in the village, and the expansion of the water treatment
plant, resulting in more water for housing development.
coordinate the installation of new bridges in 2008 along Highway 12 was
a big project.
closely with the local fishermen to support their interests.
of his chief loves is the Ocracoke pony herd, as they are a main
tourist attraction. They number 16 now, and Kenny is working
toward bringing in a chestnut stallion with the right bloodline from
the Corolla herd in the spring to build the herd to at least 25.
“One of the
things I’ve wanted to do was create more parking at the lighthouse,” he
said. “We have 1,000 visitors a day there.”
would have liked to have seen a public boardwalk encircling the harbor.
on the job is different and varied.
like to go out in the field for a few hours every day,” he said in his
distinctive Ocracoke brogue, as he drove his truck to the northern end
of the island to patrol the 13-mile beach.
the beach constantly,” he said, making sure beach users obey the rules
and overseeing the wildlife management.
checks in at the NPS Visitor Center, the ferry docks, the NPS
campground, all of the NPS housing.
I have lots of meetings—the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association,
the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Ferry Division,” he said.
the federal government owns 90 percent of the land on the island,
there’s a lot of ground to cover, and the Park Service interfaces with
many agencies and groups.
so special about Ocracoke is the fact that the government owns the
beach,” he observed. “It’s one of the few natural beaches we have and
what brings tourists.”
Service personnel respond to all emergencies on the beach.
Drownings are especially stressful and heartbreaking, and Kenny
recalled a time 18 years ago when a father and his two sons were
swimming at South Point.
child, aged 7, got caught in a rip current, Kenny explained, and the
father went in to save him.
drowned and left the other son, a 5-year-old, alone on the beach,” he
said. “We had no way of knowing how to get in touch with the
mother. We kept the child for a weekend in various homes on
island before his family could get here,” he said. “It was the longest
weekend of my life. I often wonder about that boy.”
level-one law enforcement ranger, Kenny wears a sidearm and a Taser.
Fortunately, he has never had to fire his gun, but he has come close.
rowdy fishermen docking at the harbor ended up in a fight. One man
pulled a knife on another.
was there and about to pull my gun,” Kenny said. “It got to the point
where I told the man, ‘If you don’t put that knife away, I’m going to
have to shoot you.’”
The man saw
reason and calmed down.
being a park ranger was the farthest thing from Kenny’s mind after he
graduated from college in 1977 with a degree in psychology
returned to Ocracoke.
hoping to get a job working in the psychology field somewhere, but life
had other plans.
was working at the Pony Island Restaurant,” he said. “My brother and
cousin told me there was a position open in the Park Service. I didn’t
want to interview for it.”
talked him into going for an interview.
told Jim, the supervisor at the time, that I hope I don’t get the job,”
he says with a laugh. “It paid $3.19 per hour and it was collecting
fees at the campground. That interview was on a Sunday and the
following Thursday he hired me,” he said.
he has found that his psychology degree has indeed served him well.
“I use it
every day on the job,” he said. “It’s the way you handle people.”
compassionate soul, Kenny has through the years been the ranger who
comforts family members when tragedy strikes, while his co-workers
handle the fallout.
people skills were especially needed on July 4, 2009, when fireworks in
a truck at the ferry docks exploded, killing four of the fireworks
knew all of them,” he said, with a sigh. “I held one of the men in my
arms as he was dying. One of my co-workers asked me why I
helping elsewhere, and I told him, 'No. You don’t understand.
have to be here for this man.’ My co-worker understood after that.”
Kenny himself escaped serious injury or even death that morning.
was heading down to the dock to oversee the unloading of the fireworks
when I stopped to answer a phone call in the office,” he said, shaking
his head. “If I hadn’t done that, I would have been right
when the explosion happened.”
access and the pending new off-road vehicle plan are another aspect of
early next spring, the new plan will be in place, and those who want to
drive on the beach will have to pay a fee, which is something that has
thinks the plan is fair -- or “fahr,” as he says in his brogue.
superintendent has been very fair to all who want a slice of the
pie—drivers, pedestrians, and environmentalists.”
fees for beach access is a sign of the times.
beaches north and south of us collecting fees,” he said. “People are
going to have to adapt.”
unfolds, Kenny will no doubt have to use his outgoing personality and
psychology skills with unhappy visitors.
okay with that.
“I love to
be out in the field,” he says. “I’m a people