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Pinellas County Park Rangers Draw From FNGLA Certifications to Care for Public Spaces

Thursday, June 8, 2017
Article by: Certification News

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Among the trees - Park Ranger II Bonnie Desmond stands beside one of the many trees she cares for inside Pinellas County's John S. Taylor Park. (FNGLA PHOTO/KATE CLARY)

Bonnie Desmond’s "office" sits among thousands of winding tree canopies and old Florida-style green spaces inside John S. Taylor Park, a 156-acre public space which rings around a freshwater lake in Largo, Florida.     

A park ranger II for Pinellas County’s Parks and Conservation Resources Department for more than a decade, Desmond has utilized her FNGLA certifications to keep the public space beautiful, safe and functional for the legions of visitors who regularly take advantage of its various offerings including a ball field, disc golf course, playground, picnic areas, and tree-lined trail.

“I do a lot of the herbicide applications, so I’ve got to be able to recognize natives,” Desmond said. “I’ve got to be able to determine what’s a target, and what’s not a target… and how to deal with them.”

Desmond is one of four rangers who regularly perform routine grounds keeping and maintenance throughout the park including tree-trimming, weed-whacking, pruning and herbicide application.

Among the species of plants throughout the winding green space are oaks, sycamores, firebush and, of course, many towering Pines with lush canopies.

“This used to be a turpentine harvesting area way back when, before it became a park,” Desmond said.

The team also performs other important park functions including facility keeping; security; enforcement; and customer service, according to Desmond.

Desmond, who holds FNGLA's Horticulture Professional (FCHP), Landscape Designer (FCLD) and Florida Water Star Accredited Professional (FWS) certifications, began her career with the county as a maintenance worker and credits her certifications for giving her the skills to help set herself apart early on.

“I actually was able to become a park ranger II because of my certifications,” Desmond said.                      

Desmond added her certifications also afford her the tools and confidence to provide exceptional customer service to park guests.

“You’ll have people come up and ask you, ‘What are you spraying?’” Desmond said.

Being able to offer an intelligent and thorough answer to that question has raised Desmond’s customer service to the next level, she explained.

“A lot of what our certifications entail is being able to train us to certain standards, and to understand the principles behind it,” Desmond said.

Desmond added: “When you’re able to do that, I think it helps a lot with the customer service.”

Prior to her work as a steward of Pinellas County’s public spaces, Desmond grew up working at her father’s plant nursery and later, ran a landscape maintenance business of her own.

In her spare time, Desmond serves as an instructor for various FNGLA Certified Horticulture Professional prep courses throughout the year for a number of corporate landscape firms.   

In November, Pinellas County instituted a career ladder program which, among others, utilizes three FNGLA certifications to give County employees a path to earn increased rank and pay within the department,” according to Desmond.

“It’s a way that we’re incentivized to get certifications,” Desmond said.

Paul Cozzie, bureau director for the parks and conservation resources department added of the career ladder program, “We thought it was important for our staff to have curriculum-based certifications that were going to benefit them in their future career endeavors -- as well as benefit the county by having a better-educated, more professional staff.”

For more information about FNGLA’s certifications, visit our website.

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