Maintenance Technician, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park
Hometown and background
I was born in Columbus, but I spent most of my early years living in Fairfield County. Our house was right next to Chestnut Ridge, although we moved there long before the park opened. In pre-enlightened days, there was an old joke that some women went to University to get a MRS. degree, that is, to find an intelligent husband. Well, I went to Ohio State for one year and I can honestly say I got myself a MR. degree, and it was great. I met my wife Stephanie at OSU. She recently retired from her role as an interpretive aide at Slate Run Living Historical Farm. I went on to get two years college credit for studying on an environmental education program, run by the Audubon Society. Capital University accepted my college credit and I graduated from there with a BA in ecological studies. As part of my studying at Capital University, I did a summer internship at Blacklick Woods, as a seasonal naturalist.
That was in 1991, but it wasn’t my first introduction to Metro Parks. The previous year I had worked seasonally at Slate Run Living Historical Farm, and my claim to fame there is that I was the farm’s last ticket booth operator. In the early years of the farm, we charged a small admission fee.
After Stephanie and I married in 1991, we worked for a time at a New York State environmental education center, and later did a half-year stint working at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We moved back to Columbus and I worked in construction for about a decade or more, before joining Metro Parks as a Tech I maintenance technician on the Roving Crew in 2005. I was on the roving crew team for five years, then came here to Battelle Darby Creek in 2010. There were a number of very experienced technicians here at the park when I joined and I was eager to learn from them. But by 2013 they had all moved on, and I was promoted to the foreman or supervisory position of a Tech II maintenance technician, my present role.
What I do at Metro Parks
The maintenance team is tasked with all aspects of maintaining the park, its facilities and its operations in good order. I have a team of four full-time technicians and one part-timer. In summer we also have three seasonal technicians on the team, and a crew of Columbus City Schools Initiative interns also works with us. Tasks range from the mundane, such as trash clearance and keeping restrooms clean, through to maintenance and repair of all the park’s vehicles and equipment, trail maintenance, and mowing of the park’s picnic and other open areas. Although I still participate in hands-on physical work, I have additional responsibilities such as scheduling work weeks and meeting with contractors and managers, and I also oversee the public water systems at both Battelle Darby Creek and Prairie Oaks Metro Parks.
What I love most about my job
There’s so much for people to do and enjoy when they came to Battelle Darby Creek, and I really enjoy being one of the behind the scenes facilitators of that enjoyment by keeping the shelters and restrooms clean for them, and maintaining the natural areas in their best condition. There are so many joys to experience while working here. Something as simple as clearing the trash at the Cedar Ridge Overlook Deck is a continual joy, because I get to see the beauty of Big Darby Creek, in all weathers and in all seasons. The view is almost like a reminder of southern Ohio in its rugged beauty. The sunrises seen from here can be spectacular.
But perhaps my favorite thing of all about my job is getting to work with the bison. Currently we have 11 bison at the park. We do a weekly inspection of the herd and the electrical fence that provides a safe barrier. When they see our trail vehicle approaching their enclosure the bison usually make their way towards it as a herd, expecting some kind of treat. Twice a year, when we do veterinary inspections of the herd, we get our closest interaction with these magnificent animals, as we have to round them up for the vet’s inspection. We follow very carefully-crafted safety policies in working with the bison, and we have never had any injuries to myself or any of the staff. But the experience of rounding them up is a thrilling one. We get to enjoy a similar close interaction with the bison when we shepherd them from their summer to winter pastures and back again.
My favorite Metro Parks activity
My passions are photography and birding, both of which I can enjoy while hiking at the parks. Here at Battelle Darby Creek I love to hike both the Dyer Mill Trail, and the backpacking trails. When I was growing up I went to Hocking Hills a lot, and the trails at Clear Creek are just as spectacular, with their hemlocks and sandstone outcrops.
My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction
I’ve been a keen birder since I was a kid and have become a very good ‘birder by ear.’ It’s a great skill to have, because I can recognize that there are specific species of warblers or other birds in the area, even when I’m working. If I see birders at the park, I often stop for a brief chat with them to ask what they have seen, and I will often tell them what I’ve ‘heard.’ One day I heard a golden-winged warbler nearby, which is a fairly rare bird for Battelle Darby Creek. I told a birder what I’d heard, and he followed my directions and went to search for it, just off the Hawthorn Trail. He was a regular birder, who I had seen quite often at the park before. He saw the golden-winged warbler in the direction where my ‘ear’ had told him to go. It was a life bird for him, the first of the species he had ever seen for his bird list, and he was so thrilled and pleased that I had shared my auditory information with him. This gentleman started a Facebook group, for Birding at Battelle Darby Creek and Prairie Oaks Metro Parks, and we have become birding friends.
Beyond that specific story, there are numerous little moments in our work lives when people stop and take a moment to thank us for the work we do at the parks, for example in keeping the trails in great condition or the bathrooms so clean. Those little moments and those brief thank you’s all add up to a feeling of quiet satisfaction.
If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…
My family is originally from Germany, from the state of Baden-Würtemmberg in the sourthwest of the country, touching on the French border. A cousin from Baden-Württemberg came to visit us in Columbus a few years ago. I would love to return the favor at some point and meet my family in Germany, visit their family winery, and see the house where my grandfather was born. My grandfather started Reiner’s Bakery in Columbus’s German Village in the 1920s and our family ran it for more than 50 years. Reiner’s Bakery was famous for its donuts. There is still a bakery there today, on the same site, although its name has changed to Pistachia Vera. The family owners of Pistachia Vera, conscious of the importance of the history of the bakery and its long family connection to the Reiner family, were happy to retain an original big brickwork sign on the side of the building, that still says ‘Reiner’s.’
I’d also love to spend extended time in Ireland. We’ve been there before, to the counties of Clare and Kerry in the southwest. There’s something very alluring about the country and its countryside. The Burren is a very open and windswept area of County Clare, with a rocky coast. It’s a national park, and includes the Cliffs of Moher, a tourist hotspot and very dramatic landscape that is home to Atlantic puffins and many other sea bird species. In County Kerry, we visited another national park, the Killarney National Park, with beautiful forests of oaks and yew trees, and stunning lakes and mountains. They’re wonderful places to visit, especially for a keen photographer like me.
Life news to share
Since Stephanie retired she’s actually been hard at work in the home, taking on board most of the household chores to herself, with the specific intention and goal to give the two of us more quality time together to enjoy those hobbies and interests that make family life special. All thanks to Stephanie for that. It also gives us more quality time to share with our daughter, Anna, who graduated from Ohio State last year with a degree in Horticulture.
Fun facts about me and my family
1. We’re tea snobs, all three of us, Stephanie, Anna and me. When I get home from work, the first thing Stephanie and I do is enjoy a cup of tea and talk about our day. Tea has got to be done right. First off, you have to warm the tea pot, and then use boiling water, not just hot water, to brew the tea. We often use loose leaf black tea from Harney and Sons, but we also enjoy Barry’s Tea, which comes in tea bag form in both Irish Breakfast or Gold Blend versions. Once the tea is brewed you need to add milk to the cup, then pour in the tea from the pot, and sweeten to taste.
2. As well as being tea snobs, we’re also plant nerds. We have memberships at the Franklin Park Conservatory and we often plan vacations to take advantage of our membership’s reciprocal arrangements with other botanical gardens. We’ve especially enjoyed visits to two botanical gardens in Michigan. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids is a treat, mixing fine arts with horticulture. It has numerous themed gardens and greenhouses to delight the senses, especially sight and smell. We also enjoyed visiting the Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan, which has lots of water features and bridges interspersed amongst the blooms. At home, we turn our green fingers to a fairly large vegetable garden and a native prairie garden, with lots of smaller flower gardens breaking up our diminishing lawn area.
3. Our vegetable gardening has become a big thing for me as we do our own canning. Much of it is for our own use, but I also make Christmas gifts of mixed jams and jellies for staff here at Battelle Darby Creek, and for other friends and family.
My favorite food and dessert
I love Indian cuisine, with its rich seasoning of spices and herbs. We often make curried lamb or chicken at home, and we have a favorite Indian restaurant too. The Taj Palace in Hilliard has a very wide ranging menu and the presentation is always elegant and the service always exemplary. For dessert, to which I can never say no, I’d have to say that my favorite is a good cookie. My grandfather and my dad used to make lots of Christmas cookies, including a kind of fruit bar made from left over donuts, with added dates. Knowing I’m such a cookie monster myself, Stephanie and Anna got me a Cookie Monster T-shirt, which I wear with cookie-loving pride!
My favorite entertainment
My hobbies, birding and photography, they are my favorite entertainments. I’ve been going to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Toledo ever since I was a kid, especially during songbird migration. It’s known as the “Warbler Capital of the World” for good reason! As well as nature photography, I enjoy taking photos of historical sites and architecture. I like doing crossword puzzles, and I like to watch documentaries about nature or history.
If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…
I love working at a place where most people come for pleasure and relaxation. Battelle Darby Creek is such a beautiful park, with a great diversity of habitats and gorgeous scenery. It’s a joy to work here.