BY MELANIE BUCK –
Meet Melissa Vickers Phillips, the Interpreter of Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Phillips is the newest member of the team that spends their days ensuring visitors to the Queen have the opportunity to see and learn all that the park has to offer.
As Park Interpreter, it’s Phillips’ job to plan activities that highlight the area’s sights and resources. Hikes, natural arts and crafts, and history lessons are all a part of her everyday work and she couldn’t be happier filling the role of her dream position.
Phillips comes from Lewisville, Arkansas. She graduated from Lafayette High School and attended college at Henderson State University where she gained a Bachelors of Science in Recreation Natural Resource Management.
The four year degree allowed her to begin interning at DeGray Lake State Park where she would spend four years, “doing the grunt work,” she laughed. Her next job would take her to Bull Shoals/White River State Park as a Seasonal Ranger. “I helped insure the safety of the park, helped the campers, and made sure people were doing what they are suppose to do.”
The chief ranger decided to move the seasonal rangers to learn more about the different parks around the state so she spent the next four months at Petit Jean State Park before getting her first job as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita. “As the interpreter, I tell the history of the park and teach about its natural resources.”
Following Lake Ouachita, she was sent to the state’s largest state park, Hobbs State Park Conservation Area. She spent five months there and finally made her way to the Queen.
“I came to Queen Wilhelmina in August 2015. What I love the most about the Queen is being on Arkansas’ second highest peak. The sunrises and sunsets will stop you in your tracks… it’s like wow, this is my view every morning,” she grinned.
At Queen Wilhelmina State Park, she would receive a full time Park Interpreter position, something she really didn’t expect. “Some people are seasonal rangers or interpreters for two or three years and for me to be able to jump on board this quick is phenomenal,” Phillips explained.
She told a funny story of when she first began at QWSP. “When I started, they wanted me to observe one week and jump into programs the next week so I worked up a programs list up. Just before a hike one day, the assistant superintendent pulled me into her office and told me I had misspelled Wilhelmina. I was frustrated with myself and my bottom lip was dragging but I went on out to the hike meeting place, which was the Lover’s Leap hike and no one showed up. While waiting, I was looking at the Lover’s Leap sign and I noticed that Wilhelmina was misspelled on the trail sign. So I took a picture of it with my handy-dandy smart phone and went back inside and told Sara that it was misspelled. Through my travels up and down the mountain, I have noticed that the big signs on the road, also have it misspelled. It made me feel a little better that I’m not the only one,” she laughed.
She now spends her days waking up to the view and spreading knowledge about Polk County’s crown jewel. “At the Queen, we offer hikes, crafts, Wonder House tours, viewing the wild life, and more. It’s a great place to be.”
Rich Mountain has a long and unique history and Phillips encourages people to learn more. “I want people to come and learn the things in nature as far as the trees and the wildlife. I interpret why we’re called Rich Mountain. It’s very unique in itself with its rich fertile soil and it has the second largest earthworm on earth called the Diplocardia Meansi, which is about two feet long. The trees are unique with a lot of oak and hickory whose limbs are odd shaped because of snow and ice over the years. The dwarf oak trees are unique because they are only 4-5 inches in diameter but may be 100 years old,” she explained.
And, as she says, there is nothing like living on the Queen. “The mountain has its own weather up there. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve always wanted to be outside in nature and around animals and now I get to do that full time.”
Living on the Queen’s crown is certainly a perk of the job she enjoys. “I like to be able to say that I’m one of three people that live on the mountain. It’s nice living in the park. I love it and the views are always awesome.”
To discover more about Rich Mountain and Queen Wilhelmina State Park, visit Ranger Phillips at the park, or check out their website for upcoming programs at: www.queenwilhelmina.com.