Naturalist, Sharon Woods Metro Park
I come from Marietta, in southeast Ohio. It’s on the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers with a population just more than 13,000. My dad still lives there. I left to go to The Ohio State University, where I studied Wildlife Management.
What I do at Metro Parks
I joined Metro Parks in 1999 as a Part-time Park Ranger stationed at Chestnut Ridge and Pickerington Ponds Metro Parks. I had worked as a naturalist previously, at Camp Kern, and had also worked for Critter Control. I really wanted to be a naturalist again and became the naturalist here at Sharon Woods in 2000. Nature-based programs for schools and public visitors have always formed a major part of my work here. Over the years we began to add more recreation-based programs too, such as outdoor adventures and our canoeing on Schrock Lake programs. I like to add some nature-based elements to the programs, such as a scavenger hunt.
What I love most about my job
There is so much to love about my job. I love working with our volunteers checking the bluebird boxes. In winter we fix or maintain the boxes, and monitor them March through August to record data about the number of eggs and fledglings. As well as bluebirds, we have tree swallows, chicadees and house wrens using the bluebird boxes. I also get great satisfaction from working with teachers and kids on school field trips. We have field trips nearly every day. I love planning for them, according to a class’s curriculum requirements, and seeing the benefits kids get from playing educational games such as Ecosystem Jobs. Another great joy is working with our program animals and using them in our nature programs. We have two snakes, two turtles, two toads, plus one salamander and one frog. And of course I love working with my coworkers and volunteers, many of whom have become good friends.
My favorite Metro Parks activity
Hiking and birding are my two favorite activities. I live close to Chestnut Ridge and Clear Creek and do a lot of hiking at those parks. These days, I usually restrict my hikes to a couple of miles or so. Spring migration is my favorite time of year for birding. I pay attention to reports from birding groups and go to the parks where interesting species have been seen or heard. Recently, a hooded warbler was heard here at Sharon Woods, which is rare for my park. “Birding by ear” is a terrific skill to learn. It plays a big part in another of my favorite work activities, doing our annual breeding bird surveys. We do two routes per year here at Sharon Woods, one with 11 stopping points and another with eight. Myself and some invited collaborators ‘stop’ for 10 minutes at each of these stopping points, and record the number of birds heard or seen from each spot. We spend one morning per season for each route, sometime between the end of May and mid-June. I also do the breeding bird surveys at Blendon Woods, as an invited colloborator, and also at Slate Run.
My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction
A number of years ago, I was presenting a history program here at Sharon Woods, about Ed Thomas, a founding board member of Metro Parks and one of the state’s foremost naturalists. I was using a slide show created by the first Metro Parks Director-Secretary, Walter Tucker, and used extensive notes collected by naturalists Susan Boggs and Gary Moore. The notes included a word I was unfamiliar with, ‘hegira,’ which was used in connection with meetings of the Wheaton Club at Ed’s cabin in the neotoma valley, now in Clear Creek Metro Park. I pronounced the word with a hard “g” (as in ‘get’) and a lady in the audience raised her hand and said that is not how you pronounce the word. She said it should be a soft g, equivalent to a j, as in Geoffrey, with the pronunciation being ‘heh-jeer-ah.’
—–It turns out that this word is a Latinized form of an Arabic word, ‘hijra,’ which originally referred to the Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution, and has come to have a broader meaning of a migration or journey to a more comfortable or desirable location — as in Ed Thomas’s discovery of the neotoma valley and the shack he converted to a cabin there as a meeting and study point for scientists and naturalists.
—–Later in the program we took a hike and I spoke with this lady. She told me some things about Ed Thomas that I hadn’t known, and I asked her if she had known the Thomas family. She began to cry, and told me that she did indeed know the family, and that she was Ed’s daughter. And I said, “Oh, you must be Buffy,” which was her nickname, as I knew from the notes. Her full name was Elizabeth Ann Thomas and she had come all the way from her home in Pennsylvania just to attend the program. She told me that “You have brought him back to life for me.”
—–Meeting Elizabeth, and discovering the impact my program had on her, made the whole day very emotionally satisfying for me.
Something to share about creating a positive experience for our visitors
We never know how a visitor might be feeling, but I like to think that we can improve on their day, whether it’s good or bad for them to begin with, just by taking the time to greet them or acknowledge them. I know a visit to a park can be therapeutic for many people. One lady scanned the QR code on our Story Trail and left a comment that she had been having a horrible day, but that just being at the park had improved her day considerably.
If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…
I do a lot of travel to visit family, who are very spread out. My sister lives in Seattle and my brother lives in northern California. So if money were no object, I’d like to add a trip just for myself, to go to Ireland and Scotland. I love the culture and the music. The Irish Festival in Dublin is a must for me every year. I’d also like to see Iceland. My husband is from an Irish background, but he doesn’t feel the magic of the Irish culture in the way I do.
Life news to share
I’m going to become a great aunt for a second time! My niece is pregnant again and a new baby will soon join my two-year-old nephew. I’m excited by this, but it means more trips to Seattle. My sister lives there, and my niece (on my husband’s side of the family), was in the Navy and was stationed there.
Fun facts about me and my family
1. I have two cats that hate each other. They’re mortal enemies. The enmity began when I brought home Gypsy from the park in 2018. He was my first park cat, a calico kitty. He and George, my grey tabby, were at each other right away. I thought George was a male cat when I got her, because of her size, but found out she was a spayed female when we had to take her to the vet. They have learned to tolerate each other a little more these days, after they had fought a massive battle in the basement. George had a scratch all down her face, and Gypsy had one ear near enough falling off. I’m hoping an uneasy peace continues.
2. Friends are especially important to me, especially as my family are so far away. My friends become like family to me. I have special Friend Groups. Some of them even have names, like my group The Finches. We even have a group logo. It’s me and a couple of former Metro Parks naturalists and others. Every year we take a big 2-day birding and winery trip, what we call our Finch Migration. I like it when a friend from one of my groups becomes a friend of another friend in another group. One of my very best friends is the ex-wife of another former naturalist. We like to joke that I “got her in the divorce!”
3. Photographs are super-important to me. That all started with my Grandpa, who set up the Marietta Photo Club in the 1950s and who had his own photo business. Both my grandparents were photographers. My Grandpa’s relatives would always do fun Christmas cards. My family started it up again when I was in 7th grade. We would take photos of everyone in the family, print them, cut them out, and then pose them in scenes. And then take a photo of that. I’ve become known as something of a Selfie taker in recent years. One of my aims is to get as many other people into my Selfies as possible. My record so far is about 50 other people.
My favorite food and dessert
I like Chipotle’s, especially the carnitas, which is slow-cooked pork seasoned with juniper berries, thyme and bay leaves. It’s a food that makes me happy. I can say the same about pizzas, especially the Hawaiian pizza from Donatos. For dessert it’s ice cream. I like to make my own. And also German chocolate cake. My mom’s family was German and I got a German chocolate cake every year on my birthday. I still do.
My favorite entertainment
I’ve become such a big fan of audio books that I rarely read a conventional book any more. What I love about audio books is, I can do other things while still listening and enjoying the book. I’ve audio booked all the Outlander books and the Game of Thrones books. I have Sirius XM in my car and most often listen to Radio Margueritaville, a station dedicated to the music of Jimmy Buffet. He’s a terrific story-teller and country singer. I went to one of his concerts recently and had a great time. I also like catching re-runs of old comedy shows, especially Friends, Seinfeld and Parks and Recreation. Plus I’m watching Yellowstone, which stars Kevin Costner and is a modern-day western.
If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…
I love to be able to share my knowledge of the natural world and help people to understand not just the beauty, but also the fragility of nature. In a small way, I hope I inspire people to recognize our need for conservation and to understand Metro Parks’ important role in preserving land and habitat for wildlife.
Allison Shaw was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon