Behind the Parks: Meet Kerry at Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Kerry Manion
Part-time Park Ranger, Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Park Ranger Kerry Manion at Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Hometown and background
I’m from Chicago, Illinois. My dad worked as a sheet metal worker/pipefitter for the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad, on the Chicago to St Louis route, in the days before AmTrak. Some of my fondest memories are of riding that train with my dad and brother in the late 1960s, when I was just a kid. After I graduated from Western Illinois University, I went to stay with my brother, Richard, who was living in Columbus. I found a job here, as an investigator with the Columbus Humane Society. I retired from the Humane Society in January this year, when I’d completed 40 (forty) years in the post. It was a fulfilling, if often stressful career, which reflected my love for animals and commitment to their safety and well-being, and to investigate their abusers.

What I do at Metro Parks
Although I retired from the Humane Society, I still had an itching to work. A friend guided me to see an advertisement for job openings for part-time rangers at Metro Parks. I didn’t think I was in with a chance, but I was keen to apply, and was absolutely delighted to get the job offer to be a part-time Ranger here at Prairie Oaks Metro Park. I started in March this year. I work 22 hours a week, doing the weekends and a late-shift one day a week. There is a law-enforcement element to the work of any park ranger, but it’s very different, and far less stressful, than being an investigator of the abuse of animals. I see my role as being a command presence, to help deter bad behavior and help visitors feel safe, and also to initiate positive and friendly engagement with visitors.

What I love most about my job
I get to work in a spectacular environment. Prairie Oaks is a beautiful park. I’ve always loved nature and the outdoors. Opening up Prairie Oaks on a weekend often yields strikingly beautiful red to orange skies as the sun rises through the mist. Nature is so healing. I get to see a wonderful herd of deer in the Sycamore Plains area, and to interact with visitors and their animals having fun at the doggie beach in the Darby Bend Lakes area. I get to drive through the park in the ranger truck, or drive the Kubota off-trail vehicle along the park trails, so I see all the beauty the park has to offer, in all the seasons.

My favorite Metro Parks activity
I love history in general and living history in particular, which has always made Slate Run Living Historical Farm a favorite of mine. The staff and volunteers do a wonderful job of recreating farming as it used to be in the area back in the 19th century. There is so much activity throughout the year and always something different to see and something new to learn about farming in another age. I often brought my two kids to the farm when they were younger. They particularly enjoyed seeing the animals.

My daughter Hannah and son Nathan | At Slate Run Living Historical Farm as a baby and 3-year-old | In the barn at Slate Run Living Historical Farm, ages 10 and 13 | Hannah and Nathan at a family event last year

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction
Maybe this is a little off-the-wall, but I have in mind an animal visitor, not a human visitor. Recently, someone abandoned a beagle-style dog near the Darby Bend Lakes entrance. It seemed to be scared and wouldn’t approach people, so no one could get close to it. A humane box trap was set, but didn’t work. I came in for a Saturday shift and heard that the dog had been there for at least a full day. I added bait to the trap and we were successful in capturing the abandoned animal. It was a beautiful dog, only about 8 to 10 months old. Animal control came to pick up the dog and we believe it will soon find a new home and be treated as a loving family pet. My experience tells me that this will be the positive outcome. My manager called me the park’s “dog whisperer” and it’s a title I’m happy to accept.

Something to share about creating a positive experience for our visitors
As park rangers, we have a great training session and learn about the core values of Metro Parks, which include a conviction to “make situations better.” That’s at the heart of what we do as rangers, and I see it in all of our other employees too. As a ranger, how you approach people matters. I seek to be polite, courteous and professional, and that makes a difference for people. I’m proud to be part of an organization that makes those commitments to help people be a part of our daily routine.

If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…
As a history buff, I would like to spend considerable time getting to see the sights and study the history of both Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. I want to visit the Dublin General Post Office, which was the site of the launch of the Irish Volunteers’ week-long Easter Rising in 1916, and other prominent sites of the rebellion, including Dublin Castle and Dublin City Hall. It wouldn’t be entirely about history, as I’d love to then go touring and camping in the Irish countryside and coastal regions, to see the beauty of the landscape and visit its many abbeys and castles. The same with the Scottish Highlands, which are also very beautiful. I’d like to visit Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan, where, in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard and gathered the Scottish Clans for his own rebellion, the Jacobite Rebellion, against the English Crown.

Life news to share
My wife, Anna, and I are purchasing a 1972 Volkswagon touring bus which we intend to retrofit and use on camping trips. Eventually, when both of us finally retire, we’d like to use it to visit all of our national parks, and especially to take six months or more and go touring out west and living the dream. It will be just Anna and I, with our two rescue dogs, King and Seamus. They are both pit bulls and so well behaved. They had been beaten and traumatized by their owners, both since prosectuted. I’ve had King now for three years, and I got Seamus last year. They were both about a year old when I got them. They loved being with Anna and I on a recent camping weekend at Wayne National Forest near Athens. When we go out west, I especially want to visit the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, which is a spiritual site for many Native American tribes in Wyoming.

Me and my wife Anna on a camping trip at Lake Hope State Park | My brother and me at a Civil War Reenactment event at Gettysburg on McPherson’s Ridge, where the Iron Brigade fought.
Me and Hannah at Bonnaroo

Fun facts about me and my family
1. Both my brother and I have been heavily involved with civil war reenactments over the years. We both participated in a reenactment at Antietam, which was filmed for a movie shown at the battle site’s visitor center. What makes that particular reenactment especially moving and meaningful to us both, is the fact that our grandfather actually was an infantry soldier at the Battle of Antietam, the deadliest single-day battle of the entire Civil War. He served with the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment out of Madison. The regiment was part of the Iron Brigade unit, formed with two other Wisconsin regiments, plus a regiment each from Indiana and Michigan. The Iron Brigade was also known as the Black Hats, as they wore a black Hardee hat and not the blue kepis issued to other units of the Union Army.

2. Both of our kids live out of state and both Anna and I are very proud of them. Our daughter, Hannah, is 26 and lives in Chicago. She is soon to start working on a master’s degree in speech pathology, an interest partly influenced by the fact her mom, Anna, has been deaf since childhood. For her bachelor’s graduation, I took her to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee and we had a great time. (See photo right of me and Hannah at Bonnaroo). My son, Nathan, who turns 23 in November, graduated in political science from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is now working on a political campaign for this year’s elections.

3. Retirement didn’t suit me very well, so in addition to my part-time Ranger position with Metro Parks, I also have another full-time job, working for Green Leaf Job Training Services, a Clintonville non-profit organization. I work with people with disabilities and help to find employment for them.

My favorite food and dessert
I like spicy food, and especially Indian food. It’s become a family tradition that, when we all manage to get together here in Columbus, we head out to Aab, a terrific Indian Restaurant in Grandview. For dessert, I have another slightly off-the-wall story. We took Nathan to a wine bar for his graduation, and when we were asked if we’d like anything for dessert, I asked for an Irish coffee. Now, even I know that a coffee isn’t a dessert, but it kind of stuck with me. I enjoy making my own Irish coffee at home – a nice roast, with cream and a liberal jolt of Jameson’s Irish whiskey.

My favorite entertainment
I enjoy getaway weekends and making history discoveries. There are hundreds of Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns in Ohio and I like to stop and study them whenever I see one. They have been designated as National Historic Landmarks and I am very interested in the history of one of the most famous and prolific mail pouch barn artists, Harley Warrick. He was from Londonderry, Ohio, and he painted or restored more than 20,000 barn signs over a period of 55 years as a barn artist. Most of them were in Ohio, but also in eight other midwestern states.

The Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns are a slice of Americana, and I like Americana in music too. My favorite artist is John Prine, a country-folk singer from Chicago. His parents were from Kentucky, near the town of Paradise. My favorite John Prine song is called Paradise, and it is about the town, and about how it was destroyed by strip mining, mostly by the Peabody Company.

Kerry on a camping trip with his rescue dogs, Seamus (left) and King at the Moonville Tunnel in the Zaleski State Forest | Kerry with a rescue dog during his time as an investigator for the Humane Society

If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…
I’ve only worked here at Metro Parks for a short time, but I’ve been hugely impressed by the people I work with. All my fellow rangers, plus the park technicians and management, have been so supportive and encouraging. It’s a great pleasure to work with them. Add to that what I said earlier, about the beauty of Prairie Oaks, and that’s why I love working at Metro Parks.

Kerry Manion was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

5 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Kerry at Prairie Oaks Metro Park

  1. FABULOUS! Thank you so much for sharing so much. I started volunteering (again, after raising my kids who volunteered at CH when they were little) during the pandemic. I remember when you recently retired from there and knew it would be a great loss to the organization but also recognized the healing from the job that would happen after. Being in nature is the great healer, without a doubt. Good luck to you and thank you for continuing to make this world a better place.

  2. Kerry – you are a treasure. Your story is just so chock full of interesting twists and turns. Mail Pouch Barns! I never saw that one coming. I’ve always believed that the coolest people hang out at the Metro Parks, and you’re a perfect example. Glad you’re on the team.

  3. We met Kerry last weekend while walking our bloodhounds at Beaver Trail Lake. Was extremely personable and was so kind to our animals. Looking forward to seeing him or on the trails.

  4. Thanks for sharing that Kerry. I’ve only visited Prarie Oaks once but you have inspired me to go for another visit and to pay more attention to history and the many things that surround us.

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