Black River hero

in conversation: Q&A with Paul McCormack (2023)

The Black River Water Trail & Park Network, also known as the Black River Project, is an Open Space Institute (OSI) led initiative to create a 70-mile network of parks and open spaces along South Carolina’s storied Black River, improving access to the river and providing economic opportunities for residents. As Director of South Carolina State Parks since 2018, Paul McCormack has been a valued partner on the project every step of the way.

How did your background influence your career?

I was a Boy Scout, which helped me go beyond my urban neighborhood and learn about the outdoors. After graduating and not finding my career fit, I had a conversation with a park ranger at an outdoor show. That led me to apply for a job with South Carolina State Parks, and I began my career as a park ranger in 1995.

Tell us about your work with South Carolina State Parks.

One of my highest priorities is increasing access to the outdoors and launching programs to reach individuals who haven’t traditionally used or had access to public outdoor spaces. I’m proud to lead a team of talented and dedicated rangers and volunteers who create incredible experiences for our visitors, from the mountains to the coast, including the Black River Project.

How did you start working with OSI?

My first meeting with OSI was only a month or two into my time as director. A group of organizations, including OSI, met to share their vision for the Black River. I was immediately impressed by the knowledge and passion of everyone involved. Their leadership on the Black River Project has been critical in keeping partners engaged and keeping the project moving forward.

What’s your goal for the Black River Project?

I envision an intact, protected river corridor and floodplain seamlessly connecting our local communities, where visitors can spend a day on the river or exploring flooded swamps. Locals could provide guided experiences and services, creating new small businesses. There are so many ways to experience this incredible environment and so many ways this project can uplift the communities around it.

What value does OSI bring to your work?

OSI is a big part of our work because it is an organization that is forward-thinking and deeply committed to creating properties that are open and accessible to all. The staff is always willing to share their expertise, and they also understand how to work with government agencies. I admire their vast knowledge, and I am continually inspired and energized by their drive to protect the land. OSI’s staff is creative and resilient, and this resourcefulness is helping us advance our work on the Black River and a host of other projects here in South Carolina.

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