Behind the Parks: Meet Marcos at Blacklick Woods

Marcos Santamaria
Park Technician, Blacklick Woods Metro Park

Marcos in the driver’s seat of one of Blacklick Woods’ tractors.

Hometown and background

I was born in Reynoldsburg and went to school here, first at Rose Hill Elementary, then to the Waggoner Road middle and junior high schools, before going to high school at what was then the new Summit Road High School. It offers the STEM path for education, standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I had always been very interested in science, and particularly in the fields of physiology, sports and exercise sciences.

I continued my education at Columbus State Community College and earned my associate degree in Health and Wellness Promotion. My first job was at a gym. Although I did manage to do some personal training teaching, my role was mainly restricted to sales and administration, which wasn’t so satisfying, and the pay was poor. I was offered a better-paid job at a local construction, cleanup and demolition company, and I enjoyed the physical labor. Mostly, we would salvage and store furniture and personal belongings from properties that had been damaged by fire, floods or other disasters, and clean up the properties as fully as possible before restoration work would begin.

I lived close to Blacklick Woods Metro Park and was always keen on the idea of working here. I often ran at the park and used the various pieces of equipment at the park’s two fitness stations. I applied for a number of park ranger openings at the park over a couple of years, and although I wasn’t successful with those, I had made an impression. I received a call from the park about an opening for a seasonal park technician, and was told that my work experience to date seemed well suited to the position.

I started at Blacklick Woods as a seasonal technician in May 2022. Seasonal technicians typically work from early May to about the middle of September. I’m happy to report that I impressed my supervisor and managers with my enthusiasm and hard work, and I was offered the position of a full-time park technician when my seasonal period ended.

What I do at Metro Parks

As park technicians, me and my colleagues are kept busy throughout the year with all kinds of maintenance tasks. This includes landscaping work, such as weeding, grass cutting, leaf blowing, plus general maintenance of the park and the park trails. After storms, this can involve clearing the trails of fallen trees, which can be very labor intensive. We also get to build or repair equipment, service the park vehicles, and overall keep the park clean and in a good condition for visitors. Trash cleanup isn’t the most fun, but we all know how important that is and we often hear from visitors how much they appreciate the work we technicians do in keeping the trash bins and the restrooms clean. I’ve done quite a lot of work with concrete. At some point, when we get to doing some renovations and rebuilds at our fitness stations, I’d like to be able to add a concrete base for our stretch racks. Currently, they’re built on dirt, and erosion of the soil, over time, leads to some minor slippage and then warping of the wood and metal structures.

What I love most about my job

When we get to the end of the growing season, and our 80 acres or so of prairies have lost their blooms, that’s when I start to have the most fun of the year. I get to use the brush hog to cut down the prairies. The brush hog is basically a giant lawnmower, which we attach to the back of one of our tractors and off we go. We usually start the prairie cutting in November. Myself and my two fellow technicians take turns doing it. It can take us a couple of months, considering all the other tasks we have, before we finish it. That’s two months of fun for me! I also enjoy leaf blowing, which again utilizes attachments to one of our tractors. We have a giant blower, which blows masses of fallen leaves out of landscaped areas or trails and back into the forests, and a smaller, jointed attachment that I like to call the macaroni, because it’s flexible and reminds me of a noodle! We can control the macaroni on a switch to blow leaves either left or right of our tractor.

The Blacklick Woods prairies are still in bloom, but come November, Marcos will get to enjoy his favorite work activity, cutting back the prairies with the brush hog tractor attachment.

My favorite Metro Parks activity

I enjoy hiking and running here at Blacklick Woods, but my favorite Metro Parks activities are weight lifting and body building, which I can do at the park’s two fitness stations. We have some Olympic-style lifting apparatus at our fitness stations. In fact, I had some nice interactions with a regular park visitor and user of the stations, who suggested this kind of equipment would be good to have here. I took the suggestion on board and passed it on to park managers, which led me to get involved in another favorite work activity, making weighted plates that can be added to lifting bars. Managers were able to use a grant so we could buy the molds to create the weighted plates. My own weight lifting preference is for the old-time strongman lifts. We’ve created some Atlas Stones, which are concrete balls weighing 110 pounds, which we have at our fitness stations. I also added another fun piece of weight training equipment to our stations in the form of a steel beer keg, filled with sand. I found this empty keg in the basement of a house I was renting one time, and thought it would be great for weight training. The empty keg weighs 50 pounds, and I added 100 pounds of sand to it.

Marcos with the 150-pound sand-filled beer keg and the 110-pound atlas stone, both featured at one of Blacklick Woods’ fitness stations.

I also enjoy riding my bike at the park and on the Greenway Trail which connects Blacklick Woods with Three Creeks and Pickerington Ponds Metro Parks. I have a fixed gear, single speed bike, which is great for fitness. It means you always have to pedal to keep moving, even going down hill. Although I have a car, I don’t enjoy driving all that much, so I sometimes ride my bike to work, which is about three miles from home.

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

I’ve seen a few TV shows set in the Scottish Highlands, and seen photos of them on the web. I’d love to go there. The mountains look so natural and exposed, as if untouched by humans, but also they have an almost unreal feel to them, with so many peaks so close together. I’d also like to visit the Alps in Europe. Obviously, Ohio is so flat, so a hilly landscape appeals to me just because it’s so different. I experienced a hilly environment on a visit to California, in summer 2021, when I stayed with my godmother. She lives on the Bay Side, just south of San Francisco. On that trip, we went to the Muir Woods and my breath was taken away by the magnificent towering redwood trees.

Mountain peaks bordering Loch Arklet in Scotland’s Trossachs National Park.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. Youngest of ten kids! Yes, I’m the youngest of ten kids, but I’m the only child of my mom and dad together. That means that I have nine half-siblings! The eldest are my dad’s three kids from a previous marriage, Linna, Donovan and Montse. My mom had six kids from a previous marriage, her sons Kcasey, Chris and Klayton, and then she had triplets, two girls, Tonja and Tianna, and a boy Tre. We’re all very close, although we see my half-siblings from my dad’s side less often, as they live farther away.

2. I’m a bare foot runner! I enjoy running bare foot, or wearing old-style running sandals inspired by the Tarahumara tribe, which is a Native American tribe based mostly in the state of Chihuahua, which is the largest state in Mexico. The Tarahumara were never conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, and they resisted conversion by the Jesuits. The tribe’s own name for themselves is the Rarámuri, which means “runners on foot.” They became known for running very long distances in their mountain environments, either bare foot, or wearing their traditional sandals, called huaraches. These kinds of sandals are now common in so-called US minimalist running circles. Originally they were made with a leather sole, and leather straps over the instep and around the ankle. Later on, the soles were made from the tread of old car tires, but are now manufactured with rubber soles. I usually wear a brand of running sandal called Earth Runners, which is marketed as being the closest you can be to being bare foot. I run every other day, running up to 3 miles bare foot, or 5 miles and more wearing my huaraches. On the intervening days I usually work out at a gym.

3. An international flavor! My dad came from Mexico. In fact, he told me all about the Tarahumara tribe and inspired me to take up my bare foot and huarache-style running. My mom was actually born in Turkey, but on a US military base. My grandfather served for many years in the US military and was stationed in many other foreign locations too. Also from my granddad’s side, I have an Aunt who was born in Germany, and an Uncle who was born in Taiwan. My grandfather also served in Italy, and I have an Uncle who served with the US military in Korea.

My favorite food and dessert

Our family specialty is lasagna and I love it. It’s the meal I always choose for my birthday dish. According to family legend, when my grandfather served with the military in Italy he became the apple of the eye for a lot of the local Italian girls, who flirted with him like crazy. My grandma got jealous and targeted her man’s stomach with a home-made lasagna better than any Italian girl could make! It proved the old adage: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! That’s the family legend. As for reality, my mom makes a far more delicious lasagna than any I’ve ever had at any restaurant, so I think it must all be true!

For dessert, my favorite is plain cheesecake. My cousin Justine makes a great cheesecake, and my brother Chris makes a good one too. We also have another recipe handed down from my grandma, for cherry cheese pizza. It’s a dessert pizza, much like a cheesecake, but on a buttery yeast pizza dough base rather than a traditional Graham cracker base. It makes a delicious change-up.

My favorite entertainment

I love to read science books. Currently I’m reading “Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a fascinating review of human evolution and our physical and cultural history and seeks to answer the question of why we humans are the way we are.

Another fascinating book that I read recently is “Braiding Sweetgrass” by botanist Robin Wall Kinnerer. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she spreads the word about scientific knowledge, indigenous wisdom and the teachings of plants and animals. It’s a leading book of ethnobotany, which is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of native plants in their everyday lives. The Potawatomi tribe was once common in the Great Lakes area. Her story also presents a creation story of her tribe, and reveals that sweetgrass is Mother Earth’s own hair.

I’m also a huge fan of Anime, which is Japanese animation. The most famous Anime shown here in the United States is Dragon Ball, which I watch on the streaming service, Crunchyroll. It’s about superhuman characters who use martial arts to protect the Earth and it inspired me to start working out and do bodybuilding.

Several times a month, I go to karaoke with my best friend, Thomas, who I met at junior high. I love music of all kinds, but at karaoke I usually sing country or old rock. One of my favorite karaoke songs is “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band.

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

I love the chance to be outdoors all the time and keep the park clean and accessible for people to enjoy. It’s great to work at a place where people can come and derive great enjoyment from the experience and just be themselves without any pressure to buy anything.

Marcos Santamaria was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

4 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Marcos at Blacklick Woods

  1. Thank you for this very engaging newsletter. I look forward to receiving it. My favorite article is the one about your employees. This article about Marcos did not disappoint. What a great guy! Thank you for sending these articles about the beloved metro parks of central Ohio.

  2. Marcos, Thank you for being part of the team that makes Blacklick wonderful. We used to live nearby and frequently took our three children there. My mother walked in the park every day for years and always enjoyed talking to park employees. Keep up the great work!

  3. We love Blacklick and appreciate the care that you and your teammates give. Enjoyed learning about you , Marcos. Keep up the great work. Really appreciate the Metro Parks newsletter as we visit them all.

  4. Love Blacklick. Appreciate the care from Marco’s and his teammates. Enjoyed hearing about your life Marcos. Loved the newsletter. We go to all the Meteo Parks and eagerly await the newest.

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