Getting to know you: Stephen Tillotson

Published 10:00 pm Monday, July 20, 2015


Chimney Rock State Park has been providing tourists with beautiful scenery for over 100 years. Throughout the last century, the park has grown from a mere 65 to 6,300 acres that is overseen by a staff of five park rangers.

 Stephen Tillotson, a 10-year veteran park ranger,  has served the majority of his career at Chimney Rock State Park. Tillotson discovered a love for the outdoors and educating others while studying pharmacology at Wake Forest University.

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 “I saw a connection of medicine coming from the natural environment while doing field studies,” said Tillotson. “It peaked my interest in ecology and working outdoors.”

 After graduating Tillotson joined AmeriCorps, spent four months in Alaska conducting plant surveys and six months in Arizona working with at-risk youth while creating trails.

 “It got me interested in using parks to connect many types of people to the environment,” said Tillotson on his time with AmeriCorps.

 Tillotson then returned to his home state of North Carolina to begin his career.

 “When I looked into what park rangers do I saw that it is a little bit of everything,” said Tillotson. “It looked exciting and diverse.”

 North Carolina’s park rangers are fully commissioned peace officers that attend the same police academy as a sheriff’s deputy or highway patrolman.

 “People don’t realize that we are cops, which can be difficult when we need to be,” said Tillotson.

 Tillotson is currently the lead law enforcement ranger as well as lead education ranger for Chimney Rock State Park. He strongly believes that these aspects go hand in hand.

 “Our law enforcement focuses on education,” said Tillotson.  “A ranger showing up doesn’t mean people are going to jail. We want to fix a problem, because a lot of people just don’t know specific park rules.”

 Tillotson stated that many park rangers have little interest in the law enforcement side, but see it as a useful tool when covering so much ground.

 State park rangers are also trained in the medical field.

 “Fortunately it is minor stuff for the most part,” said Tillotson.

 Chimney Rock’s rangers receive 60-100 medical calls a year ranging from heat stress to turned ankles.

 “Considering how much climbing is going on, it is nice to have a very low percentage that is serious,” Tillotson said.

 North Carolina’s state rangers are also trained to handle wildfires, carry out search and rescue operations and protect natural resources such as eagles’ nests.

 Park maintenance is an aspect that, thanks to the help of contractors hired by the park’s owners, Tillotson and the other rangers do not have to focus on.

 This gives the Chimney Rock rangers more time to offer daily educational and outreach programs.

 “Our first job is education,” said Tillotson. “It overlaps everything we do.”

 Publisher’s note: We’d like to recognize those in our community who help make a difference in the quality of our lives. In that spirit we bring you this column, regularly featuring the men and women who make a difference. To recommend someone for this feature profile, please email us at:, with the subject line “Getting to know you”.