"First and foremost, I enjoy the knowledge that the work I do gives back to communities," he said. "In the private sector, I enjoyed my work but at the end of the day I earned a living and helped make a company money. With Friends, as an employee and a volunteer I know that if I've done my job well, I've served my community and those around the state who treasure their parks. Beyond that personal reward, the best thing about working and volunteering with Friends is the people I get to work with. I've met volunteers all over the state from vastly different backgrounds.
"The one thing they all share is a passion for improving their state park or historic site. I'm honored to have met and worked with some of the most amazing people in the state and am proud to work alongside them doing good things for Georgia."
Name: Damon Kirkpatrick
Occupation: Director of Operations & Development for the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites
City of residence: Silver Creek
Family: Married to Shonna Kirkpatrick with two children, Sierra, age 13, and Devon, age 9, who all volunteer at Red Top as well.
Education: Master of Business Administration in global management, Bachelor of Science in information systems
Q: When did you join the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites and why did you want to be a part of this organization?
A: I became a full-time employee of Friends almost exactly five years ago. Through volunteering with the Friends of Red Top Mountain for several years, I learned about some of the amazing things Friends was doing around the state. More importantly though, I saw a lot of potential in the organization to expand and grow. While still working in the technology sector in Atlanta, I consulted with Friends on an expansion project. From that moment on I was hooked and knew I wanted to leave the private sector to work for this great nonprofit.
Q: Describe the responsibilities of your position.
A: We are a fairly small company with only four full-time employees and one part-time position. As such, everyone has to do a little bit of everything. My primary focus is in our communications and marketing strategies. We work very hard to stay connected with our members, donors and supporters to help them understand what we do. In addition, I work on establishing and maintaining partnerships with some of our corporate and organizational partners like REI, Georgia Public Broadcasting and the National Environmental Educational Foundation, who sponsors National Public Lands Day each year. Because of my technology background, I'm also the default technology staff and maintain our website and other technology tools we use to operate and communicate. I also help coordinate our chapters around the state by providing them with tools and programs so they can spend their time focusing on their respective state parks.
Q: Describe the role of the Friends of Red Top organization, how many members is it comprised of and what is your favorite activity at Red Top that the Friends group assists.
A: Friends of Red Top Mountain works to support and promote Red Top Mountain State Park. We are made up of a small group of core volunteers who regularly support the park and over 1,000 other members from our local area and beyond. As volunteers, we help out with interpretive programs, trail maintenance and just about anything else the site needs. We also work to raise much needed funds for the park and to find partners who are also willing to help out.
It is very difficult for me to pick a favorite program at Red Top. I love our Mountain Music Series and the Iron Pour is always a popular favorite. However, having always been a Halloween fan, I'd have to say that my favorite program is our annual Haunted Hayrides that take place in October. It is always a challenge to create a family-friendly Halloween experience that is appropriate for all ages. Designing and building the scenery, working with volunteers and then seeing kids' faces light up with excitement as they board our hay wagons is just such a thrill. It's hard to match that level of excitement and the reward that comes from hearing screams of delight through the woods is simply amazing.
Q: What has it been like working for the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites since the state budget cutbacks started in 2009? How have they affected Red Top Mountain State Park and Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site?
A: The budget cuts that have faced our parks over the past few years have resulted in dramatic changes all over the state. At Red Top Mountain, our lodge operation was closed and Etowah Mounds saw a significant reduction in operating hours. The first big challenge at Red Top and statewide has been to help the parks cover some of their basic operations. Historically, Friends has always helped with enhancing the guest experience through programs and cleanup. Since the budget cuts, we've had to change our mindset a bit to help parks stay open and operating. The other biggest challenge has been raising the awareness of the general public and our elected officials about the importance of parks for Georgia. These places are Georgia's most important treasures and need to be properly cared for and supported. But, in addition, they are also economic engines that help to drive tourism to our state. In some of Georgia's most economically challenged areas, the state park and the tourism it creates is the chief economic driver. I'm very happy to see that so many people have begun to understand the importance of Red Top and Etowah to the Bartow area and to see support continue to grow.
Q: After the state cutbacks, how have the Friends organizations helped venues operate? How can people help?
A: Just as each state park and historic site is unique, so are the needs. Some of our volunteers have taken over basic maintenance functions like mowing and grounds keeping. Some have almost completely taken over funding for interpretive programs. Still, others have provided basic supplies and necessities. In some cases, our chapters have worked with their community leaders to raise funds to keep sites open and operating their normal hours.
There are so many ways the public can help. The first and most important thing they can do is to visit their parks. When I am volunteering with a pioneer program at the log cabin at Red Top, I often hear people say, "I've lived here my whole life and never knew this was here." Beyond visiting, I would encourage everyone to get involved as a volunteer, join Friends or make a donation. Even small amounts go a long way. Donations can be made by visiting http://friendsofgastateparks.org.
It is important to remember that these parks belong to all Georgians. We all have a responsibility as stewards of these great places to leave a legacy for future generations.
Q: What are the short-term and long-term challenges facing the state parks, especially Red Top and Etowah Indian Mounds?
A: Obviously, the greatest immediate challenge is to survive the day. The severe budget cuts have caused huge shifts in operations at both Etowah and Red Top. Both sites are challenged to maintain the core operations and to continue serving guests and sharing these places with the public. In the longer term, both sites will be challenged to make the most of new opportunities. As the LakePoint development draws closer, they will have the opportunity to showcase two of Georgia's greatest treasures to hundreds of thousands of new visitors. Seizing the opportunities will be critical to their long term ability to grow and to better serve Georgia.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A: If there were one place in the world I could be right now, it would be seated in a DoomBuggy on The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
A: "Because that's the way we've always done it" is rarely a good reason to continue doing something.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I spend as much time with my kids as I possibly can. Even if we're just sitting around talking, there really isn't anything I'd rather be doing.
Q: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?
A: Unsurprisingly, Red Top Mountain State Park.