Working maintenance in the parks and recreation field, I am always amazed at some of the questions I get from others as I describe the work that I do. At times there are some very interesting questions, but usually I get the same two questions: “What is your typical day like?” and “What do you do in winter?” By answering them, maybe I’ll put a few myths to rest!
A “Typical Day”
Typical day!? There is no such thing as a “typical day.” Yes, every day the people I work with at Miami Whitewater Forest come in with a plan, and every day we have routine things that need to be taken care of (like cleaning restrooms and picking up trash). But it never fails that each day I show up at the crack of dawn with something unexpected on my plate. Whether it’s Mother Nature or someone calling in sick, the one constant factor that remains is the sheer amount of area we are responsible for maintaining.
Many people don’t know that the Conservation & Parks Department is tasked with keeping all the parks and facilities in tip-top shape. Miami Whitewater Forest alone is 4,400+ acres, containing a campground, dog park, disc golf course, wet playground and visitor center; picnic shelters; multi-use, nature and horse trails; and everything in between. Our staff also takes care of the smaller, “satellite” parks nearby like Campbell Lakes Preserve. Amazingly, we do all of these with only about 30 people on staff, the majority of which are seasonal, part-time employees.
Great Parks of Hamilton County is a huge organization with many moving parts and departments. Almost daily, we receive a request from another department that needs support in getting an issue resolved. One day, it’s the Ranger Department following up from a call from a concerned neighbor who is nervous about a tree near their property. Another day, it’s one of the Naturalist Interpreters with a potential safety issue of some tiles coming up from the restroom floor. The Conservation & Parks Department fields these types of requests all day long, which can quickly change the path we were headed down that day.
So in essence, for me, the typical day is chaotic. It is a day full of surprises (some good, some bad), opportunities and smiles and laughter, because in the grand picture, a “typical day” in the park is still a day in the park.
My favorite answer to this question is, “Nothing. We just take the season off and sit back, drink coffee and eat donuts.” But obviously that answer is anything but serious. For Great Parks’ employees, the winter is just as busy as during the rest of the season! The Conservation & Parks Department is responsible for keeping the roadways cleared when winter storms hit, as well as cutting down trees that have died or pose a safety hazard. But there is more to the winter than those two tasks.
It may not come as a surprise, but the men and women in the Conservation & Parks Department utilize a variety of equipment in our daily work. This requires a lot of training and retraining on the safe and proper usage of each piece of equipment. Winter months are the perfect time to collectively gather to train and define the safe practices. We also use the time for training in trade work, such as plumbing or proper tree felling techniques, or for professional development in different areas like turf grass management, arbor care and leadership development. We do our best to use the “slower” winter months to better prepare ourselves and our staff for the upcoming season and the growth of our careers.
The winter months also allow us to complete projects that may not have been accessible during the busy season, such as adding gravel to roadways, reshaping golf course bunkers, installing new irrigation lines, trimming tree limbs from paved trail corridors, replacing tiles in the campground shower building and replacing drywall in the snack bar storage area. We try to complete any project that requires a significant amount of time and may inconvenience our patrons during the winter, so it is done properly and causes little disruption.
Everybody gets questions about their job and what they do, and I’m hoping that now you know a little more about what my crew does. Our “typical” days are hectic and fun. And of course, the shorter the winter, the better!
Andy Grau, Park Manager, Miami Whitewater Forest
Editors Note: Department names have been changed to reflect August 2017 organizational changes. “Operations Department” is now “Conservation & Parks Department”.