Alumni Profile: Phil Gaines ‘79

Alumni Profile: Phil Gaines ‘79

By Jeremy Handel

The Great Outdoors Were Great to SMC Alum

Phil Gaines
Phil Gaines

For nearly four decades, SMC alum Phil Gaines got up, put on his work clothes, and hiked to the office – that’s right, hiked.

After graduating with his Associate in Liberal Arts in 1979, Gaines went on to earn his bachelor’s in parks, recreation, and tourism management from Clemson University. From there, he went on to the great outdoors and lifelong career with the South Carolina State Parks, where he recently retired as the director of the entire state park system.

“As a child, I always camped, hiked, and utilized the parks in the upstate, and going into a career in the park system was always something I wanted to do,” he said. “Being from Greenville, the mountains and the parks were always a special place to me, and they continue to be special and even spiritual for me today.”

Gaines got his first job in the park system as an entry level ranger at Kings Mountain State Park right out of Clemson. Over the course of his 38 years, he had the opportunity to serve as the first superintendent at Lake Wateree State Park, as well as the superintendent at Dreher Island State Park and Santee State Park. After his stint at Santee, the system called him up to state headquarters, first in operations and then on to assistant director and ultimately director.

Over the course of 38 years, Gaines says he saw incredible growth and advancement of the park system and was able to develop and advance various programs. He developed the “Discover Carolina Program,” an educational program that continues to be used for school field trips and learning programs. He also oversaw growth of the park system through significant property acquisition for public lands.

Gaines is also proud of the work to restore and conserve the Civilian Conservation Corps building and facilities, including the lodge, at Table Rock State Park. Table Rock was a favorite park of his as a child.

Gaines is also proud of his effort to continue the success of the park system in the state.

“I’m particularly proud of the opportunity to inspire and empower a new generation of park rangers to continue the legacy of state parks for future generations,” he said.

Gaines said his time at SMC helped him on his path by giving him the confidence in his abilities to succeed. He said the SMC experience was the foundation that enabled him to succeed at Clemson and beyond. He encourages young students to look into SMC for their college careers because they will get a great learning experience and grow into their true potential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *