by Rich Heiland
WHEN HE GRADUATED from Louisiana Tech in 2004, Kody Waters didn’t have his eyes set on one day being the leader of the busiest state park in Texas. But he is.
“I graduated with a degree in ag business and assumed I would do something in ag lending, like with the Land Bank,” the new superintendent of Huntsville State Park said. “But then I did an internship in that and while I learned a lot about deeds, deed searches and the like I also learned it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
From there he went to a lower level management stint with Cooper Tires.
“I knew that wasn’t what I had gone to school for. A friend, who was a game warden, saw a notice for a park police officer and ranger at Atlanta State Park, near where I grew up, and he said I should apply, so I did,” Waters said.
He got that job, went to the police academy and began work in 2006. He wore several hats, including ultimately superintendent. It didn’t take him long to realize he was meant to work outdoors and serve others.
Waters, who came to Huntsville in April of 2018 from Cooper Lakes State Park near Commerce, started out life in Atlanta. He grew up hunting and fishing.
“The whole family hunted and fished, but interestingly enough for what I ended up doing, didn’t camp. My grandmother was the camper. She got an old motor home and I would go with her and that created a passion for camping.”
If that wasn’t enough to pull Waters into outdoor work, his father spent a career with the Texas Forest Service and then was a county commissioner.
IN EARLY 2018 Huntsville Superintendent Reagan Faught left to become director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Region Two along the mid-Texas coast. Parks in that region were hard hit by Hurricane Harvey, as was Huntsville State Park. Faught had pulled the Huntsville park out of the problem times and led a recovery from Harvey that is ongoing to this day.
When Faught left Waters had no doubt he wanted the Huntsville post. His oldest daughter will start her sophomore year at Sam Houston State this year. Waters and his wife Kari have three children and Huntsville was a chance to keep the family close together.
It also offered a new management challenge given its status as a Civilian Conservation Corps park. The lake front lodge was built by the CCC during the depression and other parts of the park were improved as well. All CCC projects today carry a historic designation.
“At Atlanta and Cooper Lakes we lease those parks from the US Army Corps of Engineers. If you need to do something you can pretty much do it. With a CCC facility anything you want to do has to go through a series of steps, even basic repairs. It’s a different experience.”
The park also offers a completely different eco-system. While all the parks Waters has worked at have had lakes, the East Texas Piney Woods, with its gentle small hills and mixed hardwoods is different.
It also is a much busier park, given its close proximity to Greater Houston. It logs more extended and day visits than any other parks and at times, that can cause problems. Waters arrived just as the park increased its entry fee to seven dollars a head, on a seasonal basis.
“I can promise you we will have to shut the gate sometime Saturday morning,” Waters said on the Friday morning of Memorial Day weekend. The fee increase is aimed at making casual users, who want to drop by for an hour or two, think twice.
“There are other great parks within an easy drive,” Waters said. “We hope at busy times people will consider those parks.”
IN ADDITION TO the CCC aspect of the park, Waters said he was drawn by the staff Faught had assembled during his tenure.
“I was very impressed with the team here,” he said. When he met with the membership of Friends of the Huntsville State Park in late April he said he hoped people would describe him as “personable.” That’s the image he wants to project for himself and the park team.
Even though Faught left the local park in good shape, Waters does see challenges. Monty Atwood, the maintenance superintendent who oversaw much of the physical work of Harvey recovery, is retiring this month and work remains.
“We still have a couple of sections of trail that washed out so badly they cannot be reopened,” Waters said. “We also have to protect the park given its high visits.”
New programs also could be in the works, particularly under new interpretative ranger Ted Pick.
“There is still a lot to do,” Waters said.
And, he still will be wearing two hats. The park gained another law enforcement officer when Waters came on board.
“Yes, I have to carry a weapon when I am in uniform as a part of my certification,” he said.
But, it’s his smile he plans on showing visitors most often.