Behind the Parks: Meet Shelby, Assistant Manager at Quarry Trails

Shelby Watkins
Assistant Park Manager, Quarry Trails Metro Park

Shelby at Quarry Trails’ Trumpeter Lake. Photo Virginia Gordon

Hometown and background

I come from Upper Sandusky, a small city in Wyandot County, almost exactly half way between Marion and Findlay. The population is less than 7,000. My mom and dad still live in Upper Sandusky, and my younger sister McKenna lives nearby in Bucyrus. I graduated from Upper Sandusky High School and went on a number of college visits as I tried to determine what subject to study in my continuing education. I was most impressed by my visits to The Ohio State University and I enrolled there in 2011. I began by studying environmental science, but after my first quarter I changed this to environmental policy, as I became more interested in people’s interactions with the environment and efforts to protect it.

During my second year at the university I took a class with Metro Parks’ Deputy Director, Larry Peck. He took us on some field trips to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park to show us first-hand what park managers and park rangers do. That sparked my interest in a potential future career, as all I truly knew I wanted to do, at that point, was to be outside as much as possible. At a careers fair the following year, Larry told me that I might be a good fit for a position as a Metro Parks design and visitor intern. Luckily, I was offered the role and I started at Metro Parks in the summer of 2014.

Graduation Day at OSU! And at Ohio Stadium for an OSU football game.

At the end of my first season as an intern, I applied for a part-time ranger position at Highbanks, and was again successful. I worked in that part-time position while completing my senior year at OSU. After graduating, I was promoted to full-time as a ranger at Highbanks and worked there for seven years in all. In September 2021 I was promoted to my present post of assistant manager at Quarry Trails Metro Park. At the time, the park was still more than two months away from opening to the public. It opened on November 30, 2021, and is in a continual state of development and improvement. It’s already a great park and is only going to get better.

Highbanks will always have a special place in my memories. I met my future husband, Chad, when I started working at Highbanks in 2014. Chad was then one of the park’s two full-time rangers. We got along really well, but it wasn’t until Chad left for a job at Preservation Parks that we actually started dating. He proposed to me at Highbanks in December 2015, on the deck behind the nature center. We got married the following year on November 5, 2016.

The Proposal! Chad got down on bended knee to propose to me on the deck behind the Highbanks Nature Center.

What I do at Metro Parks

In the early days at Quarry Trails, before we had a ranger staff, I found myself having to perform many of the standard ranger duties, such as patrolling the park, opening and closing the park, and interacting with park visitors. Now that we have a full complement of park rangers at the park, I enjoy working with them and keeping them in the loop about everything that’s happening at the park. I know how important that is to help make a park ranger’s work more involving and meaningful, having been a ranger for seven years at Highbanks.

I still enjoy opportunities to patrol the park myself, but those opportunities are fewer now. I’m often very busy with administrative tasks, such as researching and getting quotes for projects as the park continues to develop, whether that’s for things such as striping the roadways, ordering picnic tables and shade structures, or working with contractors as water lines are installed. I’m also busy with paper work on compiling monthly reports, developing work schedules and filing budget statements. I’m also interested in planning ahead for next year. I’d like to start doing some organized public programs here, such as hiking or fishing with a ranger, and some campfire building programs.

Shelby would like to organize ranger-led programs at Quarry Trails, like the Building a Campfire and Fishing with a Ranger programs she participated in at Highbanks.

What I love most about my job

What I enjoy most of all is working with people. At Highbanks, I loved doing public programs in the park or doing outreach work such as participating on behalf of Metro Parks at parades. I used to participate in the Independence Day Parades in Orange Township. This year, on behalf of Quarry Trails, I participated in a July 4th parade in Upper Arlington.

Shelby with other Metro Parks’ staff members and family at an Independence Day Parade in Orange Township.

Although I hated public speaking when I was in college, I have come to enjoy doing it on behalf of Metro Parks. Especially when speaking in front of younger people, and speaking about subjects I’m so passionate about. For instance, I go to Career Days to speak about the roles rangers play in public parks. I also speak to campers on Metro Parks’ summer camp programs, and have even spoken at events such as the Safety Town program in Delaware County, where I spoke to young kids about animal safety, specifically how to be safe around wild animals in public parks.

As one of the guides on our via ferrata programs, I get to experience the thrill of traversing this wonderful “iron path” across the cliffs at Quarry Trails, and also to interact with visitors doing it for the first time. I’ve been a guide on 22 of the public via ferrata programs so far this year.

Shelby on the via ferrata’s suspension bridge at Quarry Trails Metro Park. Photo Tony Jackson

The via ferrata is a great attraction for new visitors to the park, although numbers are necessarily limited. I usually help lead two programs a week, of the three or four programs we offer weekly. Each via ferrata program has a maximum of eight participants. I was pregnant at the time when the via ferrata was being built, and so I didn’t participate in any of the trials and test runs. In fact, I felt quite intimidated at the sight of it and thought it was not something I would ever want to do. But then I saw the pictures taken of staff as they were being trained on it by the installers, and I was aching to try it. When I finally did try it, I found it really cool, and very exhilarating. And also very safe. Most of our participants on the via ferrata programs are beginners, and I enjoy the chance to share my previous experiences of the climbs with them, and to calm any nerves they might be feeling.

My favorite Metro Parks activity

I love running. Back in high school I played soccer, and started running to lose weight. Running is a great calorie burner. In winter 2012 I ran my first organized race, the Home for the Holidays 5K in Upper Sandusky. Two of my roommates during my junior year at OSU were cross-country runners, and they suggested to me that we should all train together to do a half-marathon. I remember training for about 12 or 14 weeks, getting ready for the distance. I followed a beginner’s training plan and it worked. I ran the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Half-Marathon in October 2013.

Tina Fronk, photographer. tmfronk@metroparks.net. Shelby (ranger at Highbanks) running on the bridge on the Overlook Trail at Highbanks Metro Park. December 26, 2018.

My next big boost as a runner came in 2016 when my colleague Jill Snyder introduced me to a runner’s group, Moms Run This Town. They were promoting a program to run at least 1 mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I joined the group and participated in the program. That’s when I got really obsessed with running. I’ve since run 13 half-marathons and three full marathons, but my favorite style of running is trail running. In 2020 I ran my first 50 kilometer trail race, the Fuzzy Fandango. It’s staged near to Mohican State Park and features about 4,000 feet of elevation changes. I completed it in less than seven hours, which is really good for a first timer. I prefer running on dirt and gravel trails, rather than hard-surface road running.

I used to live close to Blendon Woods Metro Park and did a lot of running on the trails there. Later I moved to Delaware, and as I also worked at Highbanks, I then did most of my running and training on the park’s Dripping Rock and Overlook trails. Running the two trails together is about 5 miles, so it’s a great distance for training and just for the fun of running. After I had my daughter Avery in September 2021 it took me a while to get back in the groove. In fact, I tried to take up running again a bit too soon, but I eventually found my way back into it. I completed my first post-partum half-marathon this past October! I’m back to running about two or three times a week now. On some runs, I take Avery with me, pushing her stroller ahead of me as I run.

Shelby with Avery out on a run, and after completing her first post-partum half-marathon in October.

I’m still a member of the running group, but the name changed to She Runs This Town, to reflect the fact that you don’t have to be a Mom to be a member of the group. It’s open to all women and girls who love running. I’ve become the leader for the Delaware chapter of the group and run their Facebook page. It’s a great way of meeting other runners and we arrange some nice social events.

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction…

When I was at Highbanks, a couple who lived very nearby would run to the park just about every day with their two huge Alaskan Malamute dogs. As rangers, we always handed out treats to dogs that are brought to the park. The malamutes seemed to really love our treats. Their names were Io and Argus, and whenever they saw a ranger truck, they would pull their owners towards the truck, as if they were wanting more treats. I always obliged. Sometimes, they would come to the nature center and jump up at the windows and whine. All the staff eventually got to understand that they were asking for more treats. It was great fun. They were beautiful dogs.

I’m amazed at the number of times people come to the parks and manage to lock themselves out of their vehicles. Helping people get back into their vehicles is a task that garnered me lots of thanks and praise from visitors. Sometimes it would be easy to get into a locked vehicle, but at other times it was a greater challenge, taking anywhere up to ten minutes of effort. The greater the effort, the greater the pleasure I felt at helping people, and the greater the thanks I received.

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

My husband Chad and I have an ambition to visit every National Park in the country. There are 63 of them in total, and so far we’ve only been to four. The four we’ve visited are Great Smoky Mountains, which we visited just this past September, Cuyahoga last year, and Zion and Bryce Canyon, both of which we visited for our fifth wedding anniversary. Next year we’d like to visit Indiana Dunes, and perhaps also one of the national parks in West Virginia. We’re already thinking ahead to our 10th wedding anniversary, and we want to go out west to see national parks in California or Colorado.

Chad and Shelby at Bryce Canyon and at Zion National Parks, which they visited as part of their 5th wedding anniversary celebrations.

I’d love to take my mom and sister with me on a trip to Europe. I’d like to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris and experience the culture. I love wine and I think the food over there would be great. I’d like to turn the trip into my very own Eat My Way Around Europe Tour. Rome would also be on my must-visit list. I follow a few Instagram travellers and love their photos of the city, especially of ancient monuments such as the Colosseum. Although pasta is not my favorite food, I expect it would taste far better made authentically the Italian way, right there in Italy itself.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome are on Shelby’s bucket list of things to see.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. I love being a mom! We have a lot of girl power going on in my family. I had my daughter Avery in September 2021, and I have three cousins who all had a baby girl last year. My sister McKenna is due in January next year and we already know she is having a girl. I think it will be great for Avery to have so many close-in-age girl cousins growing up. The name Avery actually means ‘ruler of the elves’, but her middle name, Louise, is a little more conventional.

Avery with Chad and Shelby at her first birthday party, and other pics of Avery having fun.

I’d love to have another child at some point, although Chad is a little reluctant, for the time being. I think he’s still trying to get over the sleep deprivation we encountered as a couple with a new baby in the house. Give it time! Avery is very near to walking now, and she’s beginning to utter words such as “Hi” and “Dada”. But what she says most often is “Uh-oh”, which she picked up from the Ms Rachel song of the same name, from the Ms Rachel Toddler Learning videos on YouTube. My mom comes to look after Avery for me for at least a couple of days every week, and on other days Avery seems to be enjoying her foster day care.

A family night out! Shelby with her sister McKenna and McKenna’s husband on her right, and her mom (holding Avery), dad and husband Chad on her left.

2. Our dogs! We have two wonderful dogs. Piper, who weighs about 50 pounds, is a golden doodle, which is a mix of a golden retriever and a poodle. Both of Piper’s parents were golden in color, but every dog in Piper’s litter was black. It’s unusual for an entire litter of two goldens to be black, but black is the dominant color in poodles, and that’s how our beautiful Piper turned out. Our other dog, Scudder, is a Mountain Cur and weighs about 35 pounds. My parents got Scudder as a rescue dog, while I was in college. The intention was always that he would become mine, eventually. My mom and dad used to take their boat to Pelee Island, on Lake Erie, where many boats were moored at The Scudder Marina. That’s how they came up with his name. Mountain curs are a hunting breed, and Scudder loves to chase rabbits and squirrels in our back yard. He’s about 15 years old now, but is still very healthy. He isn’t very happy being touched, so Avery has developed a preference for playing with Piper, but both dogs are very calm and great with children.

Our two dogs, Piper and Scudder.

3. On the trail of good wineries! Chad and I love to find new wineries, and sometimes breweries. A quick Google search is often the start point for a trip out. We always buy a sticker or fridge magnet from any winery or brewery we visit. Our fridge door is full of them. One of our favorites is the Hocking Hills Winery. We stay at a cabin in the Hocking Hills for many of our anniversaries, and always visit the winery. Another favorite is the Rocky Point Winery on Lake Erie. A closer to home winery that we enjoy is the Oak and Brazen in Delaware. They have a wine slushy machine, which is great. At this time of year, spiced or mulled wines are available, and they are my favorites. At other times of the year, I prefer a semi-sweet red wine.

Shelby at the Rocky Point Winery on Lake Erie, drinking wine at the Hocking Hills winery, and (on her fridge door at home) some of the many mementos of visits to other wineries and breweries in Ohio and other states.

My favorite food and dessert

I’m a foodie and love trying new foods. I use at least one new recipe every week, but my favorite food of all is a fish taco. The first time I had a fish taco was at a food truck called Sumpthin’ Fishy. It was in Marblehead on Lake Erie, and it included perch caught in the lake. Fortunately, both Chad and my father love to go fishing at Lake Erie, so I manage to get a good supply of perch at home. I make my own version of the Sumpthin’ Fishy taco here at home. It’s best with perch, but walleye also works well. I fry the fish and wrap it in a warm, soft, flour tortilla, mixed with coleslaw, or broccoli slaw, some cucumber slices, and arugula, with is a peppery leaf. The final ingredient is a good splash of spicy mayo.

My home-made fish taco (yummy) and the Sumpthin’ Fishy food truck at Marblehead, Ohio, which inspired my creation.

I have a sweet tooth and love ice cream. I have my own ice cream maker and I make ice cream nearly every night. One of my favorites to make is pumpkin ice cream, which includes milk, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and some vanilla protein powder. I’m also looking forward to the holidays this December, as I intend to make ginger bread ice cream for Christmas.

My favorite entertainment

Aside from running, my favorite entertainment is reading. I’m so pleased to have found my love for reading again. University forces you to read so much that it became more of a chore than a pleasure, so now the old pleasure is back. When Covid hit, I made a pledge to myself to read at least 12 books that year. Actually, I didn’t manage to make the target, but the next year I made up for it and read 16 books. I particularly enjoy Colleen Hoover’s romance novels, and also novels with an element of crime in them. I enjoyed Then She Was Gone, a psychological thriller by Lisa Jewell, and also The Whisper Man, by Alex North. This was so scary that I had to choose to read it during the day and not at night. I enjoy reading just before going to sleep, but The Whisper Man certainly wouldn’t work for that.

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

Working at Metro Parks provides a unique opportunity to work outside every day. I love the people I work with and have made and maintained so many really good friendships along the way.

Shelby Watkins was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

5 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Shelby, Assistant Manager at Quarry Trails

  1. As a Metro Park Volunteer at BDC, I really enjoyed reading your bio and learning more about your journey to Quarry Trails. Keep smiling and keep shining!

  2. We’ve been to the Quarry trails and love it. We can’t seem to find the rock climbing area.
    We love all of the parks but try to go to Highbanks every Sunday Morning. We call it our morning church service.
    My guess is since you worked at Highbanks then you must of known Miss Sneaky (the snake). We were sad to say goodbye to her and know that she is missed by all of the rangers who knew her.
    Thank you for your service in providing us with wonderful places to hike, visit & enjoy.

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