Staff Spotlight, Mary Lemak

Mary Lemak

Staff Spotlight, Mary Lemak

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Park Ranger Mary Lemak grew up in central New Jersey and as a young woman moved to the Florida Keys in 1995. She has been here ever since! While officially designated as a ranger at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, like all Pennekamp rangers, she also works at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. She was inspired by articles in the local newspaper on native plants by then park ranger Joseph Nemec and decided she wanted to have that amazing job.

When she was a child, Mary’s family would take trips to the Poconos and hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mary thinks she was born to be a park ranger and has always loved summertime and warm saltwater. She used to visit during college spring breaks and kept coming back, establishing her deep love for the Florida Keys. 

Ranger Mary is well-known (in the community as well as at the park) for her cheerful personality. Her dedication to hard work is obvious as she likes to do all the little things that might otherwise get overlooked. You’ll usually find her doing the daily ranger tasks of picking up ground litter and pulling trash bags. One of her favorite assignments is buoy maintenance, requiring diving at the coral reef.

One of the park's annual events is Native Plant Day, which is Mary’s favorite. Nursery volunteers are largely responsible for the event and have collected seeds from park lands and nursed them to be healthy plants. In addition to these plants being planted in the parks, the native plant giveaway is the main attraction at this event, which has an attendance of 400+ people. In this way, Upper Keys residents get to bring a piece of ...the Real Florida to their own yards.

Ranger Mary says you’ll find her here for a long time to come. She says that the “people who work at this park are amazing,” and inspire her to continue with educating others about the environment. She enjoys meeting people for the first (or only) time and encouraging them to experience and appreciate what this park has to offer.

Be sure to stop by Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park and take a stroll through the tropical hardwood hammock. It’s likely that you, too, will be energized and understand Ranger Mary when she says, “I love ...the Real Florida.”