Aug. 4, 2005 Even as a teenager, V.I. National Park Ranger Laurel Brannick hated being inside. As a park ranger best known for her work with school children, she's outdoors almost all the time.
"I get paid to go snorkeling and hiking," she said, laughing.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Brannick and several friends decided to take the plunge to St. Thomas in 1991. After a year at odd jobs, she landed a post as a park lifeguard, eventually becoming the head lifeguard. After three years on the beach at Trunk Bay, she was sick of the sun, so moved into the Interpretation Division.
The job was a perfect fit. Brannick holds a bachelor's degree in physical education from Brooklyn College and completed credits for a master's degree in sports management. She taught swimming in New York City and on lakes.
She took scuba diving lessons while living in New York, but had her first taste of the tropics when she came on vacation to do her open water dive, a certification requirement.
Brannick pulled together her educational background and experience, as well as her enthusiasm for the outdoors, to do a great job at the park.
"She's definitely an asset," said Paul Thomas, the park's chief of Interpretation and Brannick's boss.
He said that she's energetic and works well with people, an important attribute in a people-oriented job.
Thomas said she also works hard to develop programs and loves working with children.
While many park rangers spend only a few years on St. John, Brannick, 43, said she is in it for the long haul.
"I have a life here," she said.
Her life is about to get a lot busier. She and sweetie Marc Bigrigg are expecting a baby boy in November. While this will be a big change in her life, she said she plans to continue working.
She said she and the baby are both healthy, and she's still hiking the island's hills or snorkeling the bays with groups of school children and tourists behind her.
"I'm doing all the normal things," she said.
She also heads back to Brooklyn once in a while to visit family, dine out and go shopping.
"But I like living here," she said.
Brannick is one busy woman. She's president of the V.I. Audubon Society, teaches CPR and first aid for the Red Cross, walks her dog all over her Red Hook, St. Thomas neighborhood, and goes kayaking, snorkeling and occasionally plays golf.
She said the only downside comes with her commute from Red Hook. The ferry trip is a hassle thanks to late ferries, rude people who cut in line and the newest wrinkle, the need to show identification. This slows down the entire process.
However, she doesn't plan to move to St. John because St. Thomas is cheaper and there's more to do. And she and Bigrigg just moved to a three-bedroom apartment in anticipation of the baby's arrival.
"It's exciting all these big changes," she said.
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