By. Bryanna R. Poulin
Little Rock District Public Affairs Specialist
ROGERS, Ark— When you hear tiger what do you think of? A ferocious creature in Africa or maybe a majestic animal at the zoo? For some of the rangers at Beaver Lake, the word tiger describes one of their fellow teammates.
“She’s a tiger who gets things done,” Alan Bland, park ranger with Beaver Lake, Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
With golden blond long hair dangling past her shoulders and crystal blue eyes like the lake she works on, Donna Bryant, park ranger, Little Rock District, USACE starts her work day before the sun rises.
“I like coming to work a few minutes early so I can get ready for the day,” Bryant explains as she unlocks a heavy metal door and heads straight to the employee break room.
Bryant, like millions of other early morning risers, begins her day with a hot cup of coffee.
“This coffee pot isn’t as nice as the last one and I like to have coffee ready before everyone else gets here,” she explains while pouring water into the pot and adding coffee in the filter. “We’re remodeling our office so we are out here temporarily.”
As the aroma of coffee circulates in the air a few more Corps employees slowly make their way into their makeshift office. Bryant stands patiently waiting for the pot to be done but her enthusiasm rings through her voice.
“Good morning,” she cheerfully said. “This is some great weather today.”
While most days are cold in January today is a little warmer than usual.
“It’s been a warm week,” she said. “Typically we’re out on the water freezing.”
This week Bryant and her coworker are conducting the annual Bald Eagle count but typically she’s the go-between for Beaver Lake residents and the Corps.
“She gets to deal with a lot of happy customers,” Bland sarcastically joked. “If she’s at a house more than once it’s going to cost someone money.”
Essentially Bryant is responsible for encroachment or violations along government property.
“I go out and resolve things like timber trespasses, structures on public land or assess the value of the trees if residents just decide to cut one down,” explains Bryant. “They have to reimburse the government for what was lost if they don’t have a permit.”
Since most people don’t like owing the government money they usually are pretty angry but Bryant wins them over.
“I’m really successful in talking to people and getting them to fix the issues without getting mad or taking it out on me,” Bryant said. “They may be angry at the Corps but they still like me.”
Bland chimed in “She is really good at dealing with the public.”
Both the rangers explained how a lot of people think they own the shoreline adjacent to their property and rangers spend so much time on the lake they notice any changes. For example the day of the eagle count Bryant noticed some rocks that were moved to make some stairs at one of the houses on the lake.
“Just because the rocks are there [shoreline] doesn’t mean they can be moved to build stairs,” Bland said.
Bryant echoed Bland asking rhetorically “Would you go to your neighbor’s house and start building a dock or cutting down their trees? It’s no different when you do it on public property.”
When dealing with upset owners Bryant doesn’t have a secret weapon or special power but feels showing empathy is her best bet.
“I treat everyone as if they are innocent until proven guilty,” she said taking a sip of her coffee and pushing fallen strands of hair behind her ears. “I look at the issue, evaluate and tell them it needs to go.”
Occasionally adjacent land owners construct decks or stairs on public lands and these items must be removed.
“Since I’ve been here I have had more than 30 decks removed,” she explained.
That’s a lot of removals for Bryant whose journey with the Corps occurred late in life.
Appearing nervous while talking about herself Bryant humbly explains she started college later in life.
“While I was working for a shoe company I went overseas,” she said. “They sent me back to college and I got my degree.”
This paved the path for the nontraditional college student to major in Plant Science and eventually led her to USACE.
“I had worked on a farm with cattle so I got interested in plants because of raising food for the cattle,” she described. “I thought I’d get a job as a crop specialist or something like that since it was the best thing to do in my area. The company gave me an internship cleaning park trails and I needed to work to pay for some of my college.”
As Bryant began reminiscing about her college day’s Bland spoke up for his modest coworker and said “She’s not telling you she also graduated magna cum laude.”
Blushing underneath the freckles scattered across her cheeks Bryant said “Yeah I maintained a 4.0 GPA.”
Fortunately the internship opened another door.
“I had to get a full time job so I applied where I had interned and got hired in Idaho,” she explained.
Working during the day and going home to her grandkids at night, life in the Potato State was everything she desired.
“I started my new job and was over parks as a facility coordinator taking care of the campgrounds and things like that,” Bryant said smiling. “My grandkids also lived with me.”
For years her life consisted of her grandchildren and career until suddenly her grandkids had to move without her.
“They lived with me for six years of their life so when they moved I had to be close to them,” she explained.
Leaving Idaho behind Bryant searched for jobs allowing her to live closer to her grandbabies.
“When they [grandkids] went back to St. Louis I applied for jobs to be near them,” she said. “Another district hired me in 2002 and I could be close to my grandkids again.”
This was just the foundation for Bryant’s career with USACE because a few years later she applied for a position with Little Rock District.
“I have been with Beaver Lake since 2010,” she said. “They hired me and I’ve never left. I love this job. I get to do things, be outside and go places.”
Different places that opened her eyes on how fortunate her life is.
“I spent six months in Afghanistan,” she said. “It was interesting and kind of scary. I oversaw contracts and realized how much better we have it here. Life is too short not to experience everything. They have nothing over there. It helped me with my job and to realize how much more I love what I do.”
With several districts and more than a decade with USACE under her belt, Bryant continues to shine and move forward in her career with the Corps.
“She has gotten a number of awards and has been recognized many times,” Bland said.
More recently she got an opportunity to excel even further with another district.
“I just received the official offer to start with Portland District, USACE,” she concluded with excitement. “I will be leaving February 19.”