Behind the Parks: Meet Erin Flannery at Scioto Grove

Erin Flannery
Park Ranger, Scioto Grove Metro Park

Erin at the fishing pond near the Hickory Picnic Area at Scioto Grove.

Hometown and background

I come from Milan, in north Ohio. It’s a small village, with a population under 1,400, but it’s split between two counties, Erie and Huron. Back in the 1830s it flourished economically when a deep channel ship-bearing canal connected it directly to Lake Erie, but it never became part of the railroad networks that supplanted canal transportation. The canal is long gone. Milan is also the birthplace of the inventor, Thomas Edison.

I left Milan to study at Ohio State University, in the school of environment and natural resources, which is how I came to be in Columbus. For eight years, I worked at Panera Bread and in 2014 became an assistant manager at their newly-opened catering hub providing catering service to major clients such as OSU and OhioHealth. Eventually I itched to try something new, career-wise, and I managed to get a part-time ranger position at Pickerington Ponds in August 2019. I also began studying at Hocking College in their natural resources and law enforcement program. I graduated with my associate degree in 2021. By that time, I had been promoted to full-time ranger in May 2020. I was assigned to Scioto Grove Metro Park permanently in March 2021.

What I do at Metro Parks

I’m the only full-time park ranger here at Scioto Grove, although we have five part-time ranger positions too. My primary responsibilities involve overseeing groups using the Grove Lodge, checking in our backpackers, and patrolling the park. Law enforcement is a key duty for any park ranger, but our presence in the parks is also welcoming and ties to our philosophy that makes customer service equally key to our role.

What I love most about my job

I love that I spend so much of every day outside in a beautiful park. I consider Scioto Grove to be one of Metro Parks’ best kept secrets. New visitors have often told me how amazed they are with the wealth of features we have available here, with our 3D archery course, disc golf course, beautiful lodge, great trails, and five backpacking sites. I also love the unpredictability of the job, and the opportunities for problem solving.

One example of problem solving involved a father and daughter who I encountered late at night at our north canoe access. They had floated for miles down the river to reach our canoe access, and had set up tents to camp there overnight. The problem is, we don’t allow camping at our canoe access. It was already getting dark, and as I said to them, “I have to decide what to do with you guys.”

I couldn’t have them canoe back up river to their parked vehicle. It would soon have been too dark to canoe safely and their vehicle was too far away. So I came up with a plan. Our backpacking site, number 2, was only a short distance down the river and I asked them to get in their canoes and head there. Meanwhile, I said I would collect their tents and gear and transport it to the site in one of our Kubota off-trail vehicles. I was there ahead of them and welcomed them to a proper camping site, even though I had to remind them that this would be a one-off use because of the circumstances. Our backpacking sites are available weekends only on a reservable basis. The campers were delighted with the quality of the backpacking site for an overnight camp and they thanked me profusely for helping them the way I did. They told me they had seen a YouTube video of someone camping at the canoe access, and that provided me with a teaching opportunity, to demonstrate that our rules and regulations are there to protect people’s safety and comfort.

My favorite Metro Parks activity

I’m a long-distance runner, I mean ‘crazy-long-distance’ runner. I did one of the 100 kilometer Ultra Running Races in Tennessee, called the Firewater Ultra in 2019. It took me 15 hours to complete. I spend a lot of time training for races like that. Usually I’ll run about 4 to 6 miles a day four days a week, and do one longer 15- to 25-mile run on another day. I have a close friend who runs with me at Highbanks, although I also love to run at Clear Creek, especially on the Hemlock Trail.

Erin on the Super Bull Trail Championships Run at Wooster Memorial Park.

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction

As a ranger on patrol, I interact with visitors daily and enjoy the opportunity to give someone suggestions for a great hike, or to hand out stickers to kids. The reactions are always positive and it contributes to great job satisfaction.

My favorite story, though, concerns a 6-year-old boy, who evidently had decided it would be great fun to climb up the ‘outside’ of our big inner-tubed slide at the playground. He had reached just beyond and above the point where the tube makes its big 40-degree bend and that’s where he got stuck. He couldn’t go forward, and he couldn’t safely get back down. He was too high to let go and drop himself to the ground and he had begun to get scared. His parents couldn’t reach him, and they flagged me down when they saw me nearby in my truck. The danger was that the boy might actually fall off, so I deemed there wasn’t enough time to drive to the maintenance shop to get ladders. I told the young boy not to worry and let him know what I was going to do. I drove my truck onto the playground, parked it adjacent to the tub, and climbed on top of the cab. From a sitting position on top of the cab I was able to reach up to the boy and get close enough that he could fling his arms around my neck and then I brought him safely to the top of the cab with me. From there I was able to hand him down to his parents. Everyone was very relieved and happy, of course, and I was very pleased that I had quickly come up with a strategy to avert a potentially dangerous situation.

Erin at the slide where she rescued a young boy who climbed up the outside of the tube.

If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…

There are two places I’d love to go to and spend a lot of time there. The first is the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I fell in love with the scenery while watching the series Anne with an E, based on the Anne of Green Gables novels. It was shown here on Netflix. Anne is an orphan born on Nova Scotia, but she is sent from an orphanage to live with siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert on nearby Prince Edward Island. The series was filmed mainly on Prince Edward Island, which looks to be incredibly beautiful, very green inland, with gorgeous beaches surrounded by ocean.

The other place that I really want to visit is Iceland. It’s another island. I seem to have an inner love for small islands. When I was a student at OSU, my environment and natural resources scholars group organized a trip to Iceland. I would have loved to have gone, but at the time I just couldn’t afford it. But one day…! Iceland looks to be cold and bleak, but starkly beautiful and with a fascinating landscape and geology. It has some of the world’s most active volcanoes and also some of Europe’s biggest glaciers. No wonder it’s known as ‘the land of fire and ice.’ I’d love to float in one of Iceland’s many volcanic hot springs and enjoy the dramatic scenery around me.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. I have three wonderful cats, although they don’t always get along. I got Loki first, a female cat who is now about 6 or 7 years old, and later on we were joined by Fred and George, who came from the same litter and have always been good together. Loki took a long time to get used to having them around, and I think the best I can say is that she ‘tolerates’ Fred and George, rather than likes them. My boyfriend Paul likes our cats too, except when they cause trouble, as cats can do. That’s when our cats become “my” cats!

Loki on a pedestal, with Fred (top) and George on their favorite cat perches.

2. I have two younger sisters, who still live in Milan. My sister Casey has four kids, and I have two nieces and two nephews. I love being the fun aunt, who takes the kids out to play, but who equally enjoys handing the kids back to their mom after play time is over. Recently I spent time in the woods behind my parents’ house with my 4-year-old niece, Olivia. She has a fantastic imagination and imagined there were all kinds of wondrous animals in the woods with us that we had to go and capture. It led to both of us having a great time and getting very muddy as we tried to capture imaginary flamingos and elephants in a north Ohio wood! When I handed my muddy niece back to her mom later, all I got from Casey was a roll of her eyes and a sigh!

Erin with her sister, Morgan, niece Olivia, and nephew Sebastian.

3. I met my boyfriend Paul when we both worked at Panera Bread. We’ve been together for seven years now. He’s a great guy and he makes me laugh, even though he does tell me off about “my” cats from time to time!

Erin and Paul on an Erie County Metro Parks trail near her parents house in Milan, and on a night out at Land Grant Brewery.

My favorite food and dessert

My number one comfort food is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! If I’ve been away from home for any length of time, say on a vacation or visit with family, it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I have to have when I get home. It makes me feel “right” again! Smuckers creamy peanut butter is my favorite ingredient. I like to make my sandwiches with apricot jelly, or alternatively with blackberry or mixed berry jelly! For dessert, I like an apple pie. Double crusted and made with tart apples, such as Macintosh, or even Granny Smith’s.

My favorite entertainment

I love detective dramas on TV. One of my favorites was The Killing, an American remake of a Danish TV show. The American version is set in Seattle and it’s very dark and atmospheric. The acting is great. It was originally on AMC and is now on Netflix. Another dark and atmospheric cop drama is Luther, made in England with Idris Elba as the star. As well as detective dramas, I enjoy two really quirky sci-fi shows, Eureka and Warehouse 13. Both of them are on the Syfy Network. I used to read a lot when I was younger but somehow it’s harder to find the time to read these days. I very much enjoyed reading The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and was interested to see the English-language film version, with Daniel Craig. I often think that movies made from books don’t work well on screen, although this one worked better than most.

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

There aren’t many jobs where the outdoors becomes your office, and I’m lucky enough to be in one of them!

Erin Flannery was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

3 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Erin Flannery at Scioto Grove

  1. Hey Erin, great seeing your story. We met one day at the park, brown F150, as we talked about seeing eagles. Was just at Versailles State Park in southern Indiana and saw 2 adults and one youth. The youth was practicing his fishing skills, needs more practice. Didn’t have my Nikon, only phone. Going back to spend the day. Take care and thanks for all you do.

  2. This was a wonderful story! I shared it with my husband too! Loved learning about the history of Milan, Ohio too! Keep up the enthusiasm and joy of your job!

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