Over the course of the summer a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work goes into making Lake James State Park presentable for the multitudes of visitors here to have outdoors fun. The maintenance staff and rangers can’t do it on top of their regular daily duties and that’s why the state park relies so heavily on its seasonal grounds-keeping crew. From before the time the gates open until long after most visitors have left for home, seasonal workers are scouring the park; picking up litter, removing ashes from campsite and picnic site grills, addressing overflowing trash and recycling bins, mowing and weed-eating the road shoulders, cleaning bathrooms and shower houses and grooming the beach sand.
Among this dedicated six-person all-star team, Justin Allen is a vital player in keeping things running smoothly. Born and raised in McDowell County, Justin is in the midst of his fourth season working at Lake James – during which time he has graduated from McDowell High School, received his associates degree from McDowell Technical Community College and gotten married at the park. It’s safe to say most of the full-time staff feels like they have watched Justin grow up at Lake James.
To say Justin is passionate about the park would be an understatement. Several years ago he studied YouTube videos on how to mow stripes into lawns. The grass behind the Paddy’s Creek Area bathhouse has looked like a major league outfield ever since. When he’s not riding a mower or strapped into a weed-eater, Justin works tirelessly on all of the other park chores. He’s even been known to volunteer his services when he’s not on the payroll. That’s not to say working outside through the summer months is easy. “Working all day when it’s 100 degrees; it’s physically taxing to work in that kind of heat,” he said. “It’s also aggravating to have to spend so much time picking up other people’s litter. It’s such a preventable problem that keeps us from doing the grounds-keeping that makes the park look nice.” During the brief periods when he’s not cutting grass or pulling trash, Justin can often be found answering questions and offering advice to visitors. He’s easy to find around the breezeways at the Catawba River and Paddy’s Creek area offices – just look for the guy wearing the orange safety vest that never comes off when he’s on the job.
“I like working here,” said Justin. “The park is awesome and I like making sure she’s taken care of.”