ANITA — On a beautiful spring day being out on the lakeshore just taking in the scenery might sound a lot better than being at work, enjoying a nice breeze, the sun reflecting off the water. It might even be worth leaving work early. But for Josh Peach, manager of Lake Anita State Park, being outside at the park is his job and he’s got a really good view from where he works.
Peach is from Bedford, and how he came to be park manager, he said can be either a long or a short story.
Starting with the long story, Peach said, “Out of high school I went to the University of Iowa, and started as pre-med,” he said, but he also had a summer job at Lake of Three Fires and found he really enjoyed working in the park.
“After my first year of college I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be inside all the time,” he said. The second year he worked there, a park ranger at the park started talking about what a fabulous career working in the parks was. “He said, ‘You should look into it,’” Peach said.
“So I went back to school that fall and switched my degree,” Peach said. The university had just started an environmental science degree, “and that was it,” Peach said. “I decided I’d rather do this then being inside all day.”
Short story? While being a park manager “just wasn’t on my radar at all in high school, I got talked into working a summer job, and I really enjoyed it.”
He ended up with a degree in environmental science with a biology emphasis, something he says was the closest degree that the University of Iowa had that would fit into his line of work.
Today he has a really big office — acres of park land and lake — and he says what makes it all special, besides being outside, is that it’s different just about every day.
“Day to day, season to season, you never do the same thing two days in a row,” he said.
In the summer, much of his time is taking up working with campers, with camper registration, directing the summer staff and dealing with day to day upkeep of the park. “Beyond that, it kinds of depends on what we have going on,” he said, as there might be a project under construction at the park.
“The summer staff does most of the mowing and weeding,” he said, but there are always customer service things to handle at the campground.
He especially likes working with the campers, he said, “You’re not doing exactly the same thing every day.” Campers come from all over the state, as well as other states, even other countries, which can lead to some good conversations, and occasionally even a language barrier.
In the spring he says he spends time working on the prairie, and doing burns, while things slow down in the fall. In the winter, since the park is open year round, there are roads to keep clear. “People like to come out and to watch the deer,” he said, and ice fishing is popular. “It’s amazing how many people just come out to drive through and enjoy the view. A lot of people come out just to count the deer — we’d rather see them in the park than on the highway,” he joked.
And with all the people he deals with at the park, he said he often has people asking how you go about getting into a job like this.
“A lot of people, just in the course of talking with me, will ask,” he said. “They say, ‘When I was younger, I really thought about doing this, I wish I had gotten into it.’”
But there is a process to getting a park job, Peach said.
There are state requirements, he said, and a lot comes down to education and experience. He suggested going to a school that has majors that focus on environmental sciences, like his degree. Northwest Missouri offers a parks and recreation degree, and a lot of students go to Iowa State because of agriculture and conservation degrees that are offered there. “A lot of the fisheries and wildlife stuff comes from there,” he said.
Experience is a big plus for working in the park, and you can get that interning, or doing a summer job, like he did, Peach said.
“Volunteer internships give you the option to see if this is something you really want to do.”
“A lot of people see the good stuff, driving through the campgrounds, talking with campers, or being out on a mower, and they think, I can do that,” he said. “But they don’t see us dealing with law enforcement problems, or if there is a major breakdown, or a fatality in the park. That’s stuff we also have to deal with.”
Peach is a current fire fighter in Anita, and finds those skills can be helpful at the park. “We run into people who get injured, have a bike accident,” he said and fire fighter and first responder skills come in handy.
Peach is married — his wife Rebecca is a teacher at the elementary school. They have two children, daughter Mallarie is 17 and son Corbin is 14.
For about a dozen years, he and the family lived in the house located in the state park.
“It was a great place to raise kids,” he said, a lot like having a really big back yard. And while some people wouldn’t like living where they worked, in this case, it was a good fit.
When he’s not doing park work, he said he and his family enjoy being outdoors, they like fishing, hunting and boating. “We like to come out to the lake and boat, or hike and bike,” he said.
He also likes to visit other state and county parks, “But now that the kids are in school we are much more involved in sports and that keeps me busy.”
While he may not have been thinking about working in the parks in high school, he said today, “the job really does fit my families interest in the outdoors. It fit really well with most of what we do out here, and it’s stuff I enjoy doing.”
It’s not an overly stressful job, most of the time, he said, “and once I got started doing it, it was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.”
Yes, there are always those days where you are ‘just getting stuff done,’ he said, but sometimes you have to just stop and look around.
There are those really special moments, he said. “Every once in awhile I’ll be doing something,” he said, “Like this spring, I was out putting docks in.” It was one of those top ten spring days, he said, “And I thought, ‘I’m getting paid to be out here right now. It’s one of those beautiful days you just can’t beat, and I’m getting paid to do this.’”