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Lake Barkley park ranger garners interpretive excellence award

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published Sept. 8, 2020
Lt. Col. Nathan Branen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District deputy commander, presents the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division 2020 Interpretive Excellence Award Sept. 2, 2020 to Park Ranger Robert Buck, natural resources specialist at Lake Barkley in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Branen presented the award on behalf of Maj. Gen. Robert Whittle, commanding general. (USACE Photo)

Lt. Col. Nathan Branen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District deputy commander, presents the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division 2020 Interpretive Excellence Award Sept. 2, 2020 to Park Ranger Robert Buck, natural resources specialist at Lake Barkley in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Branen presented the award on behalf of Maj. Gen. Robert Whittle, commanding general. (USACE Photo)

GRAND RIVERS, Ky. (Sept. 8, 2020) – A Lake Barkley park ranger recently garnered the 2020 Interpretive Excellence Award from the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

Park Ranger Robert Buck, natural resources specialist, has conducted 22 water safety events including youth camps, fishing tournaments, and project tours since arriving at Lake Barkley in 2019. He made over 8,300 direct contacts and promoted the “Every Kid in a Park” campaign at local schools, issuing free passes to fourth graders.

“During this short time, Ranger Buck displayed a positive attitude and an exemplary work ethic in all aspects of his duties, especially promoting the Corps’ water safety mission,” wrote Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle, Jr., commanding general, in a letter commending him for his interpretive excellence.

The general also highlighted Buck’s efforts to incorporate water safety messages into nearly every contact, noting his efforts during 26 boat patrol days and numerous vehicle patrols resulting in 4,300 direct contacts, 298 vessel safety inspections, 157 enforcement actions and a boater assist.

Over the past year, Buck posted multiple water safety messages on social media and recorded a water safety public service announcement to inform people with different interests, backgrounds, and age groups about the importance of water safety.

Lt. Col. Nathan Branen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District deputy commander, presented the award to Buck on behalf of the general Sept. 2, 2020.

Branen said he is proud of Buck for taking advantage of every effort to interact with visitors and to educate them about the importance of water safety.

As the award citation noted, “His leadership, professionalism and humble attitude exemplify the Army values and the Corps’ commitment to providing safe and enjoyable recreation experiences for all visitors,” Branen said.

During the award period, Buck also coordinated the placement of 25 secondary channel buoys and repaired beach swim lines to ensure safe boating and swimming experiences.

Buck’s usual duties consist of managing permits for things like land use, docks, rip rap, dredging and tree cutting. He visits with adjacent landowners regarding usage of government property, and is in charge of Lake Barkley’s buoy program, which involves secondary marking and managing informational buoys around the project.  He is also charged with patrolling the lake, recreation areas, and campgrounds to gain compliance with Title 36 and to ensure visitor safety both on land and water.

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the program in recent months, the job area he is receiving recognition involves leading interpretive programs. 

“We have not been able to conduct those events like normal as of late, but the topics can range from water safety, local history, Corps mission topics, and environmental sciences,” Buck said. “It can be in a classroom setting, an interactive event, a presentation or a game or activity. Kids love games and activities, whereas adults typically prefer a presentation.”

Buck said he believes interpretive programs are incredibly important because of the program’s impact, which he finds very rewarding.

“When a classroom full of fourth graders hear the water safety message and the reasons behind wearing a life jacket, it’s like a light bulb clicks on in their brains; they understand the importance of something so simple, yet it could potentially save their lives,” Buck said. “Water safety aside, I believe educating people on topics they may or may not truly understand is the absolute best way to get support and to get people to really place value on something. To see a person’s face soften when they pet a snake and realize it is just a harmless animal, those are satisfying and rewarding aspects of interpretive programs.”

Kayl Kite, Lake Barkley resource manager, said Buck’s accomplishments were made while balancing a heavy workload of shoreline management duties with participating in the district’s robust park ranger training program.

“Robert is always looking for opportunities to step up and take on additional responsibilities that contribute to the team,” Kite said. “His outstanding work ethic and positive attitude have significantly improved the water safety and interpretive missions at Lake Barkley, and I am very excited that he received this well-deserved recognition.”

Buck worked as a Pathways student trainee in May 2018 at Center Hill Lake in Lancaster, Tennessee, until his graduation from Tennessee Tech in December of the same year. He then transferred to Lake Barkley. He is originally from East Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville.

He said he is very appreciative of the recognition and is very appreciative of coworkers and supervisors who serve as role models of how USACE park rangers should operate day to day.

“It means a great deal to me.  I care about my profession and educating the public, so this recognition really just spurs me to work harder to find new and innovative ways to deliver the program,” Buck said.

(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)