Behind the Parks: Meet Caroline at Metro Parks Outdoor Adventure

Caroline Wagner
Metro Parks Outdoor Adventure Programmer

Caroline at Scioto Audubon Metro Park’s climbing wall.

Hometown and background

I’m from Seven Hills, Ohio, a city of about 12,000 people in Cuyahoga County, and a suburb of Cleveland. I came to Columbus to be close to my sister, Katie, who studied in Columbus at Ohio State. I became a student at OSU myself in 2015. I started out studying construction management, and was required to take an environmental studies class. I loved that environmental studies class so much that I talked to my advisor about my options and switched my major to natural resources management.

During my freshman to senior year at OSU I worked in the university’s climbing gym, and thought what a cool job my boss had, organizing all the programs for students and adventure trips to locations both near and far. In my junior year, 2017, I started an internship as a Camp Counselor for Metro Parks’ annual summer camps. As I was about to begin my senior year, Metro Parks sent out an email to announce they were starting a new Outdoor Adventure work unit and were looking for part-time programming staff. I applied for one of the positions and was thrilled to be offered the job. The schedule, with mostly weekend or evening programs, fitted well with my studies. I graduated from The Ohio State University in winter 2019 and continued working as a part-time programmer with Outdoor Adventure. After a couple of months, a full-time programmer position opened up and I interviewed for the role and was delighted to get the job.

What I do at Metro Parks

The name says it all, Outdoor Adventure. It means that people come to us to learn to safely enjoy adventurous pursuits such as rock climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding and archery. As a programmer, I’m a certified instructor in kayaking, paddle boarding, boating and archery. The programs themselves are great fun and I get to enjoy the adventure along with our visitors. But a lot of preparation goes into making those programs happen. Preparation includes lots of office administration, cleaning and acquiring of gear and equipment, and setting up on site so that all the necessary gear is ready for use by our program visitors. When the programs begin, an important aspect of my work is making sure that our visitors are wearing safety gear correctly, and know how to use equipment safely.

Rock climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding and archery are our big four programs, but we also offer fishing at several parks, including fly fishing at Clear Creek, and have done snow shoe programs at Glacier Ridge. A somewhat less adventurous, but still very enjoyable activity, is the chalk drawing that we started offering at our S’mores programs around the fire pits. Kids and adults alike seem to love drawing with chalks on the sidewalk.

Caroline belays for a climber on a Learn the Ropes program at Scioto Audubon Metro Park’s climbing wall. Photo Liz Christian

What I love most about my job

It’s wonderful to see and even feel the excitement people have when they come to try out some of our Outdoor Adventure activities. It’s very rewarding for an instructor, and I love it when people return and do our programs again. We have quite a few regulars.

Of all the adventure activities we offer, my favorite is standup paddle boarding. I got my first paddle board when I was 13 years old and I learned how to paddle board on Lake Erie, and on some of the rivers that flow into the lake. Here at Metro Parks, we don’t get water anything like as choppy as on Lake Erie, but we have occasionally had to cancel paddle boarding at Darby Bend Lakes when the wind got so strong that it created white caps on the water. Paddle boarders can find themselves in the water now and again, so we wait till late June before starting our paddle board programs, when the water is warmer and there is no danger from exposure to cold. Kayakers don’t tip over quite as often, so we start kayaking in May. We now have tandem kayaks at Metro Parks’ Outdoor Adventure, which can seat two adults plus between one and two children, depending on size.

Caroline, with other Outdoor Adventure staff, at Prairie Oaks’ Darby Bend Lakes for a paddle board program. Photo Kobe Collins

My favorite Metro Parks activity

We offer SUP with your pup programs at Outdoor Adventure (standup paddle boarding with your pup), and that has become my own favorite personal activity in the parks. My fiancé Curtis and my dad often come with me to Darby Bend Lakes. We sometimes paddle board on the Scioto River too, starting just north of Scioto Grove Metro Park.

MOLLY THE ADVENTURE CAT | Molly, one of Caroline’s four cats, enjoys paddle boarding with her.

Fishing is also very dear to me and I love it just as much. My grandpa took me and my sister Katie fishing when we were very young. It was “worm-on-a-hook” fishing and I remember I had a Snoopy fishing rod that I used. When I was at college, a friend on the university’s bass fishing team introduced me to spin casting and that’s my favorite form of angling now, using lures and not bait. I love fishing at Clear Creek for rainbow trout, in the creek, or for large-mouthed bass in the park’s Lake Emily and Lake Ramona.

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction

Last year, while we were offering a Try It! Kayaking program at Quarry Trails Metro Park, a lady who had been walking in the park saw our signs and she approached us. She asked me how she could try the kayaking, and how much would it cost, and I said I could get her into a kayak right now and it was free. Suddenly, she seemed nervous, as if she had thought she would have to register and make an arrangement to try the kayaking sometime in the future. She explained that she had had a very bad experience with kayaking when she was younger and was very hesitant. We chatted for a while and she began to overcome her own wariness. She said it was free and was available right here and right now, and that “maybe the universe is wanting me to do it.”

My supervisor Melissa helped to fit her with a life jacket and explained how to use the paddles. She was still very nervous and asked how deep the lake was, and how far did she have to go out into the lake. I supported her and said she could stay really close to shore and that we would be right there to help her. The stars certainly did seem to align for her after that, and she got into her kayak and went out onto the water. She did stay close to the shore at first, but then seemed to become more comfortable and moved out further into the lake. She stayed out on the water for about 20 minutes and then came back to shore.

When she got out of her kayak she came to me with tears of happiness and hugged me, and hugged my colleague Melissa, saying she had enjoyed a wonderful experience. She thanked us profusely for helping her get over her fear and I was left feeling emotional myself, and with a few happy tears of my own.

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

I love Irish music and Irish food, so a trip to Ireland is definitely top of my wish list. I went to see Celtic Woman perform in Boston. They’re an all-female Irish ensemble that has become world famous over the past decade or more. The music is great! I also love shepherd’s pie at one or two Irish-themed pubs in and around the city, and of course there’s Guinness, my favorite beer. I have a black cat, and so I named him Guinness, of course! I want to see the castles, cliffs and green hills of Ireland, and experience the mythologies of the Emerald Isle as I visit lots of little Irish villages and pubs.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. Animals and Plants! My fiancé Curtis is very tolerant and accepting of my need to surround myself with animals and plants. As well as Strider, I have four cats, all of them ‘abandoned in the Metro Parks’ cats. Guinness came to me with his mother, a tortoiseshell tabby, and later I got two more cats. They often snuggle together as pairs, although all four of them get along.

Caroline’s pets: Guinness with his mom, Molly | Beau and Raya, a Siamese cat | Strider

In addition to my large dog and four cats, I have about 60 plants in our house. We have a greenhouse in our back yard and flower beds, but I recently acquired what’s become a hot commodity for plant collectors, a Philodendron Ring of Fire. New leaves are a coral color and look like flames, but they turn green as they mature, with a distinctive white pattern. These rare and partly variegated tropical plants can be hard to grow, so I’m giving it much love and attention. They can get to be ginormous, and I’m looking forward to it growing bigger and bigger as I tend to it.

Caroline at home holds her recently acquired Philodenron Ring of Fire. The large plant alongside her is a Ficus Altissmia.

2. Me and my fella! I met Curtis at Metro Parks, when I was working at a Canoe the Lakes program that Outdoor Adventure had organized at Sharon Woods’ Schrock Lake. Curtis was a ranger at Sharon Woods at the time and was working the program too. Soon after, we met again, by accident, as he was in one of my classes at OSU. We started dating a little while after that. Curtis moved on to become a ranger at Blendon Woods, but has now left Metro Parks and works for AEP. We are getting married this August in the Palm House at Franklin Park Conservatory!

Caroline with her fiancé, Curtis.

3. My parents live two streets away! My parents moved to Columbus when I was a senior at OSU, to be close to my sister Katie and me. When Curtis and I got engaged, we bought a house together, just two streets over from my mom and dad. We live close to Schiller Park, in the German Village area. It’s great for everyone to have mom and dad so close! My family comes from a German-Polish background. Curtis is also from a Polish background. His last name is Frey (pronounced Fry).

Caroline with her sister, Katie, outside of Lindey’s Restaurant in German Village.

My favorite food and dessert

I’m not much of a cook myself, but I can’t get enough of my mom’s chicken salad. My grandma made a great chicken salad too. I love it, the shredded chicken with mayonnaise, celery, grapes and almonds! It’s like a meal in itself, although I sometimes enjoy it with a croissant. Curtis is the one who does most of the cooking in our house. He enjoys using a grill, for steaks, chicken and veggies. As for dessert, I’m not really sweet-toothed. I would always take something savory over sweet. After a meal, I’d rather have a baked potato than a slice of apple pie!

My favorite entertainment

Apart from the paddle boarding and fishing that I mentioned earlier, my one true entertainment is gardening. I love to visit plant stores and grow things both inside and outside our house. I have a water rotation schedule for my 60 indoor plants, and then I have my greenhouse, to keep me busy in winter. I love to grow beans, snap peas, peppers, water melon and radish in my raised vegetable beds, and I have a 3 feet by 9 feet flower bed where I grow a lot of cut flowers. Dahlias are my favorite flower to grow! Another entertainment for me is Bingo. Most Wednesdays I go with my best friend, Cassie, and two other friends, Kylie and Nancy, to the Bingo sessions at Zaftig Brew Pub on 5th Avenue.

Caroline’s garden and greenhouse, plus Caroline in the doorway of her greenhouse holding a geranium.

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

I get to interact with people and see them at their happiest as they try out our programs. It’s great to have a chance to introduce people to the joys of outdoor adventure.

Caroline Wagner was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

4 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Caroline at Metro Parks Outdoor Adventure

  1. WOW. Thanks for sharing Caroline. I truly enjoyed reading every word. I feel like I know you. Congratulations to you and Chris on your engagement. Pretty sure I have seen Chris at the two of my favorite metro parks… Blendon Woods and Sharon Woods.

  2. I love that you have four cats and that one of them paddleboards with you!

  3. Thanks for showing me a new aspect of our Metro Parks! I did not know these programs existed.

  4. Great story. I also didn’t know the parks had kayaks. Please get the word out so the public can know. Maybe commercials about the parks.

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