Outdoor Connection

Meet Bret Bush, the Recreation Manager at Ocala National Forest

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter January Outdoor Living Newsletter
Brett Bush, Ocala National Forest Ranger studying a Forest Service Map
Bret loves working outdoors

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a Ranger at a National Forest and what does being a Ranger mean? We certainly did. We indulged our curiosity and posed our questions to Bret Bush, a National Forest Ranger who serves as the recreation manager at Ocala National Forest in Florida. Here is what he has to say about what a National Forest Ranger does, especially at Ocala NF.

CampingRoadTrip.com (CRT): Tell us a little about yourself.

Bret: I graduated from college in 1982 with degrees in Forest Technology and Outdoor Recreation. After teaching Outdoor Education for Houston, TX schools for a year, I landed a job with Huntsville State Park north of Houston. A Sam Houston National Forest Ranger Station was close to my park so one day I walked into their office and asked, "Do you have any jobs?" Two months later, I began working for the forest as a Timber Technician. Within a year, I got promoted to the neighboring Ranger Station and began my career managing National Forest Campgrounds and Trails. During my time there, I also became a Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer as well as met and married my wife of 27 years (I actually met her when I took Smokey Bear to her classroom during Fire Prevention week). As the years went by and I progressed up the ladder in FS Recreation/Trails Management, I took positions on Forests in Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona and Louisiana. In 1997, I landed my dream job on the Ocala NF and have been here ever since.

How does someone become a Ranger?

The reality is that jobs in the Forest Service are extremely competitive and require considerable study and hard work. I recommend that people interested in a career in natural resource management pursue a degree in wildlife biology, ecology, forestry or a similar discipline. Work hard and get the training you need. Once trained, you will be competitive to apply for jobs within the agency.

What's the best part of your job?

Doing what I love and working outdoors. Being able to see campers and trail users enjoy recreation opportunities that I have played a part in providing.

What's the toughest?

Setting priorities. With so many different campgrounds, trails, and dispersed recreation sites, it is often hard to decide where to put our limited resources. We tend to fix what is broke first and often don't get to the things we really want to accomplish and the public wants. We are fortunate though to be able to utilize a tremendous volunteer pool to supplement our workforce to get needed projects completed.

What do Rangers do on weekends?

The majority of my employees provide customer service on weekends. With over 70 volunteers living at our various recreation sites, helping us manage the customers, we are there to support them. I personally work many weekends so I can stay in touch with the ground work and understand where we need to be putting our limited resources. My employees and I also spend a lot of time enforcing the rules, and if needed, writing tickets to those that refuse to obey the rules.

What are some of the best things to do in Ocala National Forest?

The crown jewels of the Ocala's recreation program are the springs. They offer a nice family experience. Our hiking and OHV trails are good, too. With over 200 miles of OHV trails, we have the largest OHV trail system in the SE U.S. Users come from all over to enjoy them. The Ocala NF also has over 600 ponds, lakes and prairies so water activities are numerous. Kayaking, canoeing and fishing opportunities abound on the Ocala.

We hear Ocala NF has three first-magnitude springs. What are they?

Alexander, Juniper and Silver Glen Springs. They are our largest springs.

What is your favorite trail and why?

I never get tired of hiking the Lake Eaton Sinkhole and Loop Trails. They're each about two miles long and are very popular with the snowbird crowd. Interpretive signs along the way help visitors understand the Ocala's unique ecosystem. Being an OHV enthusiast, I also enjoy our OHV trails.


There are 14 campgrounds to chose from in Ocala National Forest:

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