Cheryl Vincent has wanted to be a park ranger since she was 7 years old.
“I didn’t know how much law enforcement and training went into being a park ranger, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Vincent said.
Vincent has spent the past 10 years as assistant superintendent for Lake Catherine State Park in Hot Springs and was named the superintendent in January after former superintendent Richard Boyes retired.
“She has a passion for the job, and she is very people-oriented,” Boyes said. “We have worked together since 2008, and we made a good team.
“I hope I instilled some things in her that I learned over the years. She is very good at what she does, and she complimented me on a lot of things I wasn’t that good at — especially computers.
“She is just an all-around good gal and has developed a love of the park that I had while I was there.”
Vincent said she still calls Boyes regularly.
“He is still very much a part of this park,” she said. “The one thing I learned the most from him is, his patience and his love for this park just shine when he is here.
“That really just rubs off on all of us. … Everybody who works in this park has learned something from Richard.”
She said everybody in this town and community knows Boyes, and she wants to be that fill-in, where everybody “gets to know me as an advocate for this park.”
When Vincent was hired at Lake Catherine, Boyes said, one of the things that stood out to him was her enthusiasm and her demeanor.
“She took it all and ran with it,” Boyes said. “She developed into a great assistant superintendent, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Vincent said she loves connecting with people and developing relationships with the kids who visit the park.
“When I see kids who are 6, 7 or 8, I want to instill the same passion I have into them,” she said. “I really try to make it fun and educate them on everything, from littering to certain tree identification.”
Vincent is originally from Eudora, Kansas, having graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan in December 2003 with a degree in park resource management. She said she grew up on the lake, as she and her family went camping regularly. She said that every so often, they would make a trip to Northwest Arkansas.
“We would canoe the Buffalo National River or camp at Devil’s Den State Park, and that’s really all I knew of Arkansas,” she said. “But I knew I really wanted to work here.”
She said that when she was in college, representatives from the Arkansas State Parks came to K-State for recruitment. She applied and worked a summer job at Jacksonport State Park in Jackson County, Arkansas.
“I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else,” Vincent said. “The resources here in Arkansas are amazing.
“If you love the outdoors, The Natural State is the place to be. And now we are raising our kids here, and they don’t know any different, either.
“This is home for them.”
Before coming to Lake Catherine, Vincent served as superintendent for Lake Poinsett State Park in Poinsett County. She said her time there was more of a stepping stone, as ultimately, she wanted to be closer to central Arkansas.
“I have been blessed with finding the right position and the right time, and it has worked magically for me,” Vincent said. “Now that I’m here at Lake Catherine, I’m not going anywhere for a while.”
She said that as an administrator, she spends most of her time behind a computer — working on the budget, performance appraisals and personnel issues — “which comes along as you move up in any career,” Vincent said. “I get out as much as I can, and I try to be as present and available to our park visitors as I can.”
She said she still teaches kayaking to visitors and hosts a women’s outdoor weekend, where she spends time teaching or refreshing women on the basics of camping, backpacking and water sports.
“[We do] things they wouldn’t do by themselves,” Vincent said. “I try to facilitate that for them. … Being available to our guests is one of my favorite parts of the job.”
Tom Stolarz, the Region I supervisor for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, has known Vincent for 15 years. He said Vincent always has a very positive attitude and a can-do mentality.
“It is hard to find anyone finer,” Stolarz said. “She is up to the challenge and is a very customer-oriented and service-minded person. …
“… She has intimate knowledge of that park, and the visitation patterns and needs of the visitors.”
Vincent said that having been at the park for 10 years, she knows what time of the year it is just by who is visiting the park.
“If it’s Thanksgiving, I know the park visitors who are arriving because they are here year after year — they have become part of our family,” she said. “That’s got to show you something. Obviously, we are doing something right in our state parks, if we have repeat visitors coming back year after year.
“Arkansas has some amazing state parks and some amazing resources that allow us to have our state parks, too. I have been in Arkansas for 15 years now, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Stolarz said that when the annual I Love LK 5K benefit race, which raises funds for organizatiions such as Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Arkansas Down Syndrome Association in memory of Lila Kate McAlister, was in its early stages of inception, Vincent was a tremendous proponent of getting the race organized.
“Trying to organize a 5K race and expecting 50 to 150 participants and having to deal with parking and traffic, including guests who maybe have nothing to do with the event — she was willing to take on all those challenges,” Stolarz said.
Stolarz has been the regional supervisor for almost nine years. He said Vincent’s experience at the park played a role in her becoming superintendent at Lake Catherine, but it also had to do with her knowledge and potential.
“I think she was a good choice for this position,” he said.
Vincent said her ultimate goal is to maintain the facilities at the park. She said a lot of the structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and are outdated and in need of repair and updates.
“We need to take care of and preserve our cabins and our facilities and our rock walls, those things that were placed here when the park first started,” she said.
The park plans to replace the marina this fall or winter with a whole new facility, she said, and eventually, a mountain bike trail will be added at Lake Catherine, but it may be a couple of years before that takes place.
Boyles said once he knew he was going to retire, he spent as much time as he could teaching Vincent everything he knew about the park.
“We just slowly worked together over the past couple of years and prepared her to take over for me. There was no doubt in my mind that she was prepared for this role,” Boyles said.
“My ultimate goal is to be here for as long as Richard was,” Vincent said, “at least until my kids are out of high school and moved on to college.
“For now, for the next seven or eight years, I will be at Lake Catherine State Park for as long as they will have me.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.