Behind the Parks: Meet Becca at Blendon Woods

Becca Ballard
Park Ranger, Blendon Woods Metro Park

Becca at Thoreau Lake in Blendon Woods. Photo Virginia Gordon

Hometown and Background

I come from Gambier, in Knox County, Ohio. It’s about an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus and is best known as the home of Kenyon College. The population is just a little over 2,000. I went to elementary school in Gambier, but for junior high and high school I had to go about 5 miles up the road to Mount Vernon.

I played soccer from third grade all the way through to the end of high school. At first I played in midfield, but for the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets I played mostly in defense. After high school, I went to Wittenberg University in Springfield and majored in pre-health biology. Wittenberg had a varsity soccer team, but at that point I was more interested in playing a club sport, and the university had a club rugby team. Although the university’s varsity mascot is a tiger, our club rugby team was known as the Wittenberg Mud Pigs. I played a variety of positions, including wing and full back, when I became adept at making lots of open tackles. Not a bad skill for a park ranger! In my senior year I became a fly half, passing the ball to our try scorers.

Becca played soccer at high school, but in college played club rugby for the Wittenberg Mud Pigs.

My original intention was to become a doctor. I went through various internships at hospitals and volunteered to shadow doctors. There were many things I saw during those internships that were off-putting and made me wonder whether becoming a doctor was the right thing for me. Many doctors I shadowed made light of the bad stuff they were forced to deal with, perhaps as a coping mechanism, but I wasn’t sure I could do that. I continued with my major and changed my focus more towards working in physical therapy. I really enjoyed some of the shadowing I did in physical therapy, seeing the positive impacts the work could have in improving people’s health and also mental well-being. I graduated from Wittenberg in 2017 and began looking for opportunities to qualify to become a physical therapy assistant. After shopping around for schools, I was accepted at the Bradford School in Columbus. The Bradford School had been a prominent private college for more than a century, and I was due to start in spring 2019. But then, suddenly and out of the blue, the school closed. It was super disappointing, and for a time I was quite depressed about it.

Becca at her graduation from Wittenberg University, alongside her parents and her sister, Jenn.

I had been working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks while shopping around for physical therapy schools. I remember one of my co-workers at Starbucks jokingly telling me that I should become a park ranger, but the idea took hold. I sent in a resume to Metro Parks and I was interviewed for a part-time ranger position at Blendon Woods. My thinking, at the time, was that I would give it a month to see if I liked being a park ranger. And I certainly did. I started in my part-time ranger position in September 2019, and after just a month in the job, I was hooked.

I was promoted to full-time early in 2021, and did my required FTO, or Field Training Officer Program that summer. In January 2022 I started at the Ohio Peace Officer Basic Training Academy and qualified to become a commissioned peace officer in May that year. This wonderful training equips us with the knowledge and resolve to handle difficult situations, which might include dealing with aggressive people, people with mental health problems, or even people brandishing a weapon. While other police agencies deal with these situations more frequently than we do, it is still important to always be prepared. The Academy training also teaches us more than you could imagine about the maneuverability of vehicles and how to drive for success in law enforcement and safety situations.

Becca with her parents at her graduation from the Ohio Peace Officer Basic Training Academy.

What I do at Metro Parks and what I love most about it

As park rangers, we have two very distinct roles, in customer service and in law enforcement. Which means we sometimes have to change from being the friendly face of Metro Parks to having to put our foot down. We have an awesome crew here at Blendon Woods and I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues over the years. I have a lot of interaction with our park visitors, whether that might be to answer a few simple questions, help visitors who may have become lost on the trails, or reuniting kids with their parents. This can happen more often than you’d think, especially when we have big events in the park. We just had an Eid celebration at Blendon Woods and I was able to locate the parents for two young kids who had become separated from them. Situations where we have to put our foot down are usually minor in nature, and can include people drinking alcohol, letting dogs off leash, or driving carelessly or even recklessly.

Becca, just hanging out at the Blendon Woods natural play area. Photo Virginia Gordon

Although we have naturalists here at Blendon Woods, we rangers sometimes get to help out with programs, which I always enjoy. There is one program, held annually at our sister park, Rocky Fork, that I have been given the responsibility to organize and manage. This is our Barktoberfest, a grand party for our four-legged friends. We’ve held the event since 2018, but I became the organizer in 2022, when we had more than 800 two-legged visitors, and more than 200 dogs. Rain kept visitor numbers down from that in 2023, but I am already working on planning the 2024 version. The most fun part of the event is our doggie costume contest. Our visitors come up with some fantastic costumes for their dogs. I would love to bring my own dog to Barktoberfest, but unfortunately she gets car sick and has to miss out on the fun.

For the past two years, I’ve been on the ranger teams working at Red, White and Boom. I get a huge kick out of working this huge event. It’s incredible how many thousands of people we pack into Scioto Audubon Metro Park to watch the fireworks displays. We’re on the go the whole night and it’s like organized chaos from beginning to end, which is a lot of fun for me. Especially when we can reflect on a job well done, and that so many thousands of people, crammed into such a small space, have had a great night and got home safely.

I was recently involved with another ranger strike team, in another huge gathering of visitors. This was for the Solar Eclipse and my team of four rangers, including myself, helped out at Prairie Oaks Metro Park, which was in the path of totality, and which had more than 5,000 visitors on the day. Managing the control of traffic and safe parking were the big issues we faced. I enjoy planning in advance for such things as parking at big events. I made the parking plans for our winter hikes at Blendon Woods and Rocky Fork this year and helped manage the operations on both days.

My favorite Metro Parks activity

As a bonding exercise, I joined a team with six other Blendon Woods employees and we all went off to do the via ferrata at Quarry Trails Metro Park, when they were doing the pre-launch trials. It was fantastic, a real thrill, and I would love to do it again sometime. But my favorite regular activity at Metro Parks is taking my dog over to Sharon Woods. As I mentioned earlier, she gets car sick and so I won’t risk taking her to Barktoberfest at Rocky Fork, but I live only four minutes away from Sharon Woods, and Miss Honey can manage the four minutes without getting ill. I got her from a rescue shelter. My roommate suggested I call her Matilda, after the title character in the book by Roald Dahl, but she had such a sweet nature that my immediate instinct was to name her after Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey. She weighs about 35 pounds and is a mixed breed. I had some DNA tests done on her, which revealed that she’s a mix of a chihuahua and a German shepherd. She was about 18 months old when I got her, and about four years old now. We usually go over to Sharon Woods once a week and walk the Spring Creek Trail, which is just under a couple of miles. One time I tried to entice her into having a splash in the creek, but she turned her nose up at that and wasn’t having it! So she most certainly is not a water dog! For the rest of the week, we walk in the neighborhood.

Miss Honey enjoys a walk on the Spring Creek Trail at Sharon Woods, but she always turns her nose up when we stop to look at the creek.

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction

One night, I went to the nature center to close it up before the park closed. The only visitor insider the nature center was a teenage boy, who was stood in front of a big plastic model we had of a wild turkey. He was studying it very closely. When I came in, he turned to me and asked me, with a real note of intrigue and curiosity in his voice, “What is that?” When I told him it was a wild turkey and that we had many of them in the park, he exclaimed with wonder, “So, that wasn’t a big chicken I saw in the park!”

Just a short while after, when I left the nature center, I saw him outside and he came up to me with a big grin on his face and held up a large turkey feather that he’d found. Turkeys often shed their feathers in the park. I really enjoyed that interaction, as the boy showed such a high degree of curiosity, interest and delight in learning a little about wild turkeys and then finding the feather.

A lot of visitors to Blendon Woods are surprised to discover we have so many wild turkeys here. I often have conversations with visitors about the turkeys and tell how they roost in trees, and how they can fly, although not very gracefully. I often see turkeys on the park road, using it as something of a runway, as they seem to need a running start before taking to the air. Often enough, when I drive the park road at dusk, with my windows down, I’ll hear a Tom turkey give a loud gobble, as if warning me off from his flock. Sometimes I’ll see Toms get into a fight for dominance of the flock.

Traveling – places I’ve been, places I’d love to go

Becca and her sister Jenn on the beach at Cozumel in Mexico.

I’ve made a few trips abroad. I went to Cozumel in Mexico for a family trip, which is a touristy kind of place where we went swimming with sea turtles and lazed about on the beautiful beaches. I also went to Niagara Falls in Canada, which was really cool and extremely beautiful. I also went to Canada on another trip, to visit Ottawa. It’s a fun city where I heard most people speaking French. It was hard for me to fit in, as I only know one French phrase, and that comes from a French TV show, Téléfrançais, which a roommate in college played all the time. One of the characters is named Ananas and is a talking pineapple that lives in a junkyard. Ananas means ‘pineapple’ and he says repeatedly “Je suis un ananas.” I don’t think it would have helped me too much to go into an Ottawa restaurant and say “I am a pineapple.” So I kept my French to myself on that trip.

Becca and Jenn with their dad at Niagra Falls.

I also loved a trip to the UK, which was after I graduated from high school. I went with my mom and her best friend, Keana, and also Keana’s niece, Grace, who was a year younger than me. We started out in London, then went to Cardiff, Chester, Durham, and finally back to London. Although Keana is American, she used to live in Chester, so she wanted to show us around. Chester is a very old town, with lots of remains from the Roman occupation of Britain from Julius Caeser’s time. There’s a legend that Chester is haunted by the ghost of a Roman legionnaire, who was killed when he abandoned his guard duty to meet his English lover. It’s said that this legionnaire still patrols the city walls as an eternal punishment. In fact, there are said to be lots of hauntings in Chester, and we went on some fun ghostly walks. The inn that we stayed at, The Pied Bull, is also said to be haunted by one of the maids who died there centuries ago. It’s said that this ghostly maid is seen there by people all the time, and I saw her myself. And so did my mom! When we met for breakfast the next morning, we both reported what we had seen, separately, and we were stunned. We had both seen the ghost of the maid of The Pied Bull!

Durham was also a fun visit, which is a town with more Norman rather than Roman influence. But my favorite part of the trip was going to the Doctor Who Museum within the National Museum in Cardiff. The Doctor Who series is filmed in the studios and in the locality of Cardiff. There is also a separate Dr Who Experience which features a great interactive experience of the show and its characters and aliens. There are also lots of exhibits about the show Torchwood, which featured Captain Jack Harness as the lead character, who also appeared in many Doctor Who episodes. My sister Jenn and I love Doctor Who, especially up until Peter Capaldi became the doctor. I had stopped watching by that time. My favorite has always been David Tennant, with his companion, Catherine Tait. So it was great when the pair came back together to make another short series of Doctor Who episodes in the past year. Naturally, I started watching them again!

The National Museum in Cardiff, and Becca poses in front of the Tardis in the Doctor Who Exhibition.

Some time in the future, I would love to visit Iceland. It has so many really cool geological features. I read that there are places in Iceland where the magma is so close to the surface that people can actually bake bread underground. I’m really interested in geology, volcanoes, and Nordic and Viking history.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. Cool Connections! My dad moved from Springboro to Springfield, to live with and look after his ageing grandmother. Meanwhile, my mom, originally from Pittsburgh, had studied at Wittenberg University in Springfield, and graduated with a psychology major. She became a social and health visitor and my dad’s grandmother was one of her in-house visits. That’s how my mom and dad met. Apparently my mom had to push the envelope and ask him out. She told me once, “Your dad was so oblivious that I was into him, until eventually I had to ask him to walk me home.” And that was the start of it. They’ve now been together for 35 years.

2. Alma mater crossovers! My sister and I went to our parents’ universities. My dad went to the University of Cincinnati to study engineering, and my sister Jenn went there too, also to study engineering. They’re very alike in their interests and demeanor. They are very detail oriented, like mathematics and problem solving, and can sit for hours planning something out in exacting details. Jenn used AutoCAD to map out the house she intended to buy, down to the very last measurement, to plan what furniture would fit and where it could best be placed. It all worked out perfectly. She uses AutoCAD every day and works on HVAC design for retail buildings.

Meanwhile, I am much more like my mom. We both went to Wittenberg to study in health-related fields. We are much more big picture people rather than concentrating on the minutiae of small and proliferating details, and we make decisions more quickly as we simply go with the flow. Rather than arts and mathematics, we’re more into bird species, dogs, learning about mental health and illness, and social awareness. My mom went on to work as an interventionist with autistic children and kids with special needs. Now that she’s retired, she’s planning a venture of her own, to train service dogs to work with autistic kids.

3. Near Neighbors! Me and Jenn live across the street from each other, which our dogs absolutely love! When Jenn bought her house in Westerville, I moved in with her. We had roomed together previously in an apartment. But after a year or so, a house across the street came up for sale and the time seemed right for me to get a place of my own. Miss Honey likes our new house. The German shepherd part of her comes out when she hears noises outside. She’ll sit in front of me, as if to protect me, and stare out the window at where the noises are coming from, trying to look imposing. It’s so cute. My mom sometimes brings her dog over to my house. He’s a King Charles spaniel, named Andre, and is only about 15 pounds or so. Sometimes Andre will try to sit on my lap, but Miss Honey doesn’t like that. One time, she weaseled her way onto my lap while gently shoving Andre out of the way. Not that Andre seemed to mind too much. He just moved away without any barking complaint, as if to say, “Okay, I’ll go over here then.”

On Saturdays, in summer, I often take Miss Honey with me to the local Westerville Farmers Market. She just loves all the smells to be experienced there. She goes about with her nose to the ground, sniffing out all the other dogs and the people and the soil. She likes to play with bigger dogs and so enjoys crossing the street to Jenn’s house to play with her dog, Flash. He’s a labrador/coonhound cross, weighing about 60 pounds. Since I moved into my own house, Jenn got a new roommate who also has a dog, a sheepdog weighing an imposing 100 pounds. He’s called Bilbo and Miss Honey loves to play with him, even though he’s almost three times bigger than her.

Flash, Honey and Bilbo at Jenn’s house; Honey and Andre; and Becca with Miss Honey.

My favorite food and dessert

My favorite food changes just about every day. Having said that, I’m always happy to eat pasta. I especially like the lasagna that my mom makes. She uses just about every vegetable under the sun in it, but instead of ricotta, she uses cottage cheese. I prefer the version she makes with spinach, zucchini, broccoli and bell peppers. Sometimes, Jenn asks mom to include mushrooms in her lasagna, but I’m not so keen on them. If we’re eating together, I scoop out the mushrooms and put them on Jenn’s plate. The more mushrooms the merrier, in Jenn’s case! We often eat together as a family. Jenn and I go up to our mom and dad’s place in Mount Vernon about twice a month, and they often come down to eat at one of our houses. It’s great for them, their two daughters living across the street from each other.

For dessert, I adore tiramisu, with its coffee and chocolate flavors, delicious cream and exquisite texture. The Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea Shop serve a really good tiramisu. There’s a Sweetwaters fairly close to Blendon Woods and I sometimes stop in on the way to work for a coffee, but a tiramisu is an experience, not just a dessert, and is best left for sitting in the shop and savoring every moment of it. My mom’s an excellent baker, but she doesn’t make a tiramisu. I do love her home-made cinnamon rolls though. And I like her cinnamon-less rolls just as much. Jenn’s new roommate is allergic to cinnamon, so my mom took to making a special version without cinnamon, using nutmeg, cloves and ginger instead of cinnamon. It’s really, really good!

My favorite entertainment (books, movies, tv shows, sports etc)

For some reason, I prefer watching a physical DVD to watching a show on streaming. I recently bought the entire seven-movies series of Tremors films. These are definitely corny, and love-to-hate-them kind of movies. I think they’re great fun! All that fake blood and the giant worms going about eating people! I also enjoy fantasy films and books. My favorite is The NeverEnding Story. The book was written by Michael Ende and there were three films made from it. The first two were based on the book. The book had been a childhood favorite of mine, then I read it again when I was in college. I’m also working my way through the very many Terry Pratchett novels. I like anything of his in the Discworld series, but in particular I like the subseries of Tiffany Aching novels, such as The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky. Tiffany is a kid witch, who is very sassy and funny.

I still enjoy rugby and I’m a big fan of the Māori All Blacks, a New Zealand rugby team. Unlike the New Zealand national team, every player for the Māori All Blacks has to have Māori whakapapa (or geneology). I went to see them play a United States team a few years ago, in Chicago, where the New Zealand team won easily. Before the game begins, all the players get together and perform a haka, which is an ancient form of Māori war dance. Great fun to watch, as a spectator. But it puts fear into the opponents!

Becca is somewhere in the scrum during this Wittenberg Mud Pigs rugby game.

If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…

I just love the environment that is Metro Parks. It’s a great place to work. We seem to attract good people both to work here and to visit us. I love interacting with the people I work with and our visitors alike. And it’s great to work outside so much of the time.

Becca Ballard was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

What Blendon Woods Manager Heather Edwards says about Becca

“Becca started out as a part-time ranger in 2019. During Covid, in 2021, she was promoted to full-time ranger and got “stuck” with me for all three FTO phases, and yet survived! She has developed into an impressive full-time ranger and has a solid understanding of her position. Becca assists with district-wide initiatives/training/plans and organizes events at Rocky Fork dog park and assists with training the new Blendon Woods/Rocky Fork rangers. It is a pleasure to work with Becca.”

One thought on “Behind the Parks: Meet Becca at Blendon Woods

  1. Your bio was fun to read, Becca. You already have had a full life and I am sure will continue learning and exploring! I hope you can go to Iceland sometime. Thank you for helping take good care of Blendon Woods, which is the Metro Park closest to our house.

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