Beloved ranger says goodbye

Dave Tobey, former Round Spring District Interpretive Ranger, has officially retired from the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) after having close to a 20-year career with the ONSR. 

“It all started in 1982 when I became a seasonal ranger with the ONSR,” said Tobey. “I was just finishing up my college work and I noticed they were looking for seasonal rangers, so I applied.” 

After the first season, Tobey went into a long career of education, and then retired from teaching in 2008 when he started seasonal work again.

“I started seasonal work at Alley Mill after I retired from teaching, and then the seasonal work turned into a full-time position,” said Tobey. 

When Tobey was teaching he was a vocational education teacher and career counselor in the Springfield and St. Louis areas. 

“Even in my teaching career, I kept a tight connection with the park and the area, and I would take the kids to the park a lot,” said Tobey. 

After Tobey retired and started his seasonal work, he also taught an outdoor education class at Westminster College. 

“I would take students to the park and Current and Jacks Fork rivers,” said Tobey. 

“When I took international students they thought it was a such a great area, and it made me realize that we take for granted the things we grow up around… and it caused me to have a greater love for the area.” 

Tobey worked as a seasonal Ranger at Alley Mill for a year, then in 2009-2012 he served as a seasonal ranger at Round Spring. 

“I was then hired as a naturalist at Current River State Park where I created a program of activities and helped visitors learn about the cultural and natural history of the park,” said Tobey. 

Tobey did that for a few months then went on to work for Big Cypress National Preserve. 

“I served as an interpretive/ environmental education park ranger who focused on implementing a countywide environmental education ‘Swamp Water and Me Program’ that allowed students to become immersed in the ecosystem of the preserve,” said Tobey. 

Tobey also gave guided cane and kayak eco-tours for the preserve. 

In May 2014, Tobey went to work for the U.S. Forest Service at the Tonasket Ranger District and worked there until September 2015. 

“In 2015 I was offered a permanent position with the ONSR at Round Spring as the District Interpretive Ranger,” said Tobey. 

“I grew up half a mile from Round Spring, so it was an opportunity to come home and tell the story of Round Spring. It was a dream come true.” 

During his time at the ONSR, Tobey advised seasonal rangers, developed educational and interpretive programs for visitors of the park, gave 20 cave tours a week, and oversaw two major campgrounds (Round Spring and Pull Tight). 

“What I really wanted to do when I was hired was to improve the river safety and river skills of people using the river, so we developed a comprehensive program to address that,” said Tobey. 

“We also gave skill classes throughout the summer and that became a big part of what we did.” 

While Tobey was with the ONSR, he created several programs and helped with other existing projects. 

“When I was there, Round Spring and the Upper Current River did not have a trail system, so we connected Blair Trail to Round Spring and created Round Spring Spur of the Ozarks. 

“That added a valuable asset to the park for the people, and it really helped us expand our programming,” said Tobey. “We then started a fall hiking series that runs from September through November.” 

Tobey worked closely with the Ozark Trail Association on this project and opened 14 miles of trails for the visitors. 

“Another thing I really wanted to do was to create more of a partnership with the area schools that were a little more involved with the programs we give,” said Tobey. 
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“We really wanted to become a more serious partner with the schools and reinforce the objectives and policies that they needed.” 

With that, Tobey created a program for children to visit the park, and become scientists. 

“We created data collection backpacks filled with thermometers, PH strips, and containers and the kids collected water tests for us,” said Tobey. 

“Instead of giving them a tour or a hike, we wanted to make them contributors and really get them involved with the park.” 

They did about 80 visits per year, and that included pre-site visits and field trips. 

“I really hope that continues and keeps going,” said Tobey. “I presented this program on local, regional, and national levels and I’m really proud of that partnership.” 

Over the last four years with the ONSR, Tobey thanks all the people he has worked with over the years, helping him with all the programs and projects. 

“I was constantly going to people and asking them to do things and help, and I am just so thankful for them,” said Tobey. 

“Another thing I am really proud of is that we now have over 30 certified ACA instructors that are either employees or volunteers, and there were none when I started.” 

According to Tobey, his favorite thing about being with the ONSR was being able to share the story of Round Spring and Upper Current River. 

“I loved teaching outdoor skills. Better skill equals more fun and I said that over and over again,” said Tobey. “I also enjoyed helping reconnect local people with the park and to use the resources we have and enjoy it more, and develop an appreciation for what is right here.” 

The hardest thing for Tobey is that he never had enough time. 

“There was always one more thing you could add or teach, and at the end of the day I would drive through the campground and there was always someone I would stop and talk to and have a long discussion with,” said Tobey. 

“I was always late to dinner. You could never close the door at 5. My love for the community never turns off and I wanted to make contact and communicate with the last person who visited.” 

Tobey did have one more goal with the ONSR that he has not completed, but now with retirement he is able to finish it. 

“My fourth goal was to do whatever I could to get the ‘friends’ organization up and running,” said Tobey. 

“Good people started it but it never seemed to get off the ground. They didn’t seem to have someone with the time and connections to get it up and running.” 

Tobey’s goal is now to get it up and running and have something going with the friends organization next year. 

Tobey retired at 67, although according to Tobey the goal was to retire at 70. 

“The goal was to stay there until I was 70, but I realized there were other things I wanted to do.” 

Tobey is now living in Arizona and working for Arizona State Parks in December through March. 

“I’m going to work the winter here in Arizona and get some things checked off the bucket list,” said Tobey. 

“I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do, but I’m currently getting trained to do cave tours for them. It’s a great way to share the resource and teach people how fragile the environment is.” 

The River Hills Traveler would like to thank Dave Tobey for all his dedication and service to the ONSR over the years, and wish him well on his retirement journey. 

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