SEBRING - An award-winning interpreter and certified park ranger, Brian Pinson was recruited in July 2012 to be the assistant manager of Highlands Hammock State Park.
Born in Statesboro, Ga., Pinson moved around a lot during his childhood, but the one constant in his life was his love of the outdoors.
After settling in Brandon, Pinson took a variety of jobs working in factories, at a shipyard and for a juvenile detention facility before being hired as a park ranger for Hillsborough County in 2000. He became a Florida State Park Ranger in 2009.
A bass guitarist since he was 12, Pinson reminisced about his early aspirations to be a rock star and the brief success he had, cutting a record and making appearances with a few garage bands.
"It was a lot of fun," he recalled, but after meeting his wife, Nicole, being a family man became his ambition.
"I got lucky," he said. "I have two great kids, a great wife and a great career. This is what I've always wanted, and I'm appreciative of what I have."
In June, Pinson was presented the distinguished Prudential-Davis Productivity Award by Florida TaxWatch, a private, non-profit research organization that honored 468 recipients this year for their productivity and "innovation to improve the delivery of state services."
Located at 5391 Hammock Road in Sebring, just four mile off U.S. 27, Highlands Hammock's 9,000-acre recreational facility has nine hiking trails, picnic areas, tram tours, campgrounds, a Civilian Conservation Corps museum, and is an events venue for concerts and fundraisers.
"We manage Lake June in Winter Scrub State Park and the Seven Lakes property from here, also," Pinson said.
"We have some of the most endemic and rare plants in the country and even the world right here."
Initially hired by the park system because of his strong maintenance background, Pinson has had considerable training in the past 13 years, completing the University of Florida Best Management Practices course and several technical certifications.
He is also a certified burn manager through the National Wildfire Coordination Group.
"To some people, being a park ranger is just a title; to others of us it's a way of life," Pinson said. "I live the Florida mission for the park services."
While working at Hillsborough River State Park, Pinson was surprised and honored when he was presented a custom walking stick and a plaque commemorating his accomplishments as the districtwide 2011 Interpreter of the Year.
"It was very emotional for me, because that was a goal I felt very strongly about achieving," he said.
When jokingly asked by a friend what other language he spoke, Pinson responded, "It is a park language, speaking about Florida's natural and cultural resources. I help people to enjoy their individual experience at the parks. "
Recognized in April as Employee of the Month of District Four of the park service, Pinson said, "I really do kind of eat, sleep and breathe being a park ranger."
Pinson was offered a position as manager of a smaller park earlier this year but turned it down. He explained, "I've got the best of both worlds here. I'm like the coach that gets to run out on the field with the players."
With a staff of 13 paid park employees and up to 60 seasonal volunteers, Pinson takes his commitment to "lead by example" seriously.
Whether it is digging to repair a culvert, working on a prescribed burn, guiding nature walks, or leading one of the free campfire program's talks that educate visitors about the park, Pinson said that he is proud to be a Ranger first and foremost.
Some of his duties include helping with work days like National Public Lands Day scheduled for Sept. 28. From 9 a.m. until noon, local volunteers will be removing small pine trees with hand saws and loppers in an effort to restore vital scrub jay habitat in the park.
Last year's project, done in conjunction with the Ridge Rangers volunteer organization, successfully removed 400 sand pines from the Hammock's North Branch area.
A trail maintenance project has also been scheduled for scout groups or students that would like to spend the morning doing light trimming of vegetation and overhanging vines.
Volunteers can register by calling 471-5324 and will meet Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Recreation Hall.
"We're doing our first annual Halloween event Oct. 25 and 26, called the Haunted Hammock," Pinson said.
"We are looking for organizations to come out and volunteer."
The tram ride will run through areas of the park decorated by participating groups.
"This is the eighth park I have worked at in my career, and I have never seen such deep community ties to the park," Pinson said.