July is Parks and Recreation Month! We’re also celebrating our 90th birthday this July. While we can’t celebrate with you in person right now, we’re commemorating these occasions in a different way: Meet the faces behind Great Parks of Hamilton County. Learn more about the people who are passionate about bringing you the best experience every time you visit your favorite Great Park.
Meet Joel Altman, Great Parks Ranger
How long have you worked for Great Parks of Hamilton County?
What first interested you in working in parks and recreation?
I grew up in Sharonville and then Blue Ash, Ohio, and grew up coming to Sharon Woods with my family to picnic, ride bikes and walk the trails. It wasn’t until I left the Cincinnati area for Washington, D.C. that I realized what being from Cincinnati meant to me and that is when I understood what it was to call myself a Cincinnatian. For the better part of a decade, I planned for a life after federal service and a return to my hometown. After a 10-year federal career, I finally returned to Cincinnati and had a chance encounter with a Park Ranger at Sharon Woods while out on a hike on the Gorge Trail with my daughter. I was looking for something that was not your everyday type of law enforcement but was more public service and community based. Being a Park Ranger allows me to serve the public and feel like I am finally home – mostly at Sharon Woods where I grew up – and to talk to people from all over who come to visit our Great Parks.
What is a typical day at work like for you?
As a Ranger, you never know what is going to happen each day. However, I have utilized my time with Great Parks to interact in a positive way with the public every day that I work. I usually get my police car cleaned each day and get the mountain bike ready and then head out to make sure our visitors are safe and enjoying their time at Sharon Woods. Some days are quiet, other days are busy with encounters of many interesting people. Some days I even have run-ins with different wild animals that live in the parks. It is great to be out and about among our guests and not stuck behind a desk or in an office somewhere. I try to ride at least a few miles each day on the mountain bike. I find that being on the bike helps to break the ice when talking to guests. I am a big advocate for bike safety and try to talk about that when I am out riding around Sharon Woods. I get to ride the “Tour de Sharon” as I call it, each day that I work. I can’t ask for anything better!
How does your work directly impact park guests?
I would bet that most residents of Hamilton County do not know that we even have Park Rangers. However, Rangers have been in existence at our parks in some form since 1932, when the first night policeman was hired and deputized by the Hamilton County Sheriff. In 1945, the Park Commissioners of Hamilton County Park District established the Hamilton County Park District Ranger Department. Today, we are called Great Parks of Hamilton County Rangers and we serve as the police department that is responsible for the safety of Great Parks’ properties throughout the county. While I personally see our role as Park Rangers as somewhat different than that of a police officer, we are all state of Ohio certified peace officers and go through the same police academies as your local law enforcement officers. I like to be out and visible for our guests and let them know that we are out there to keep them safe each day, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My absolute favorite part of the job is interacting in a positive way with the public and being a role model for children who can look at us and all police officers as being there to help and to represent law enforcement in a positive way. I have had the opportunity to be a part of park programs and talk about Sharon Woods and being a Park Ranger. I am also part of a new Park Ranger Safety Unit that is going to focus on traffic, pedestrian and bike safety. I have been working on a new children’s book about Great Parks, which will hopefully be released soon. It follows Great Parks’ mascot, Parky the raccoon, as he visits each Great Park and explores all they have to offer.
Who do you spend the most time with outside of work?
Mostly my family who like to come and look at Buckeye Falls in Sharon Woods when we visit. Also my two crazy, needy and annoying dogs who wake me up at 3 a.m. each morning to eat, because they just cannot wait until 5 a.m.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy writing and I have written eight children’s books so far, with another coming next year. I also enjoy boating, mountain biking, listening to Yacht Rock, being an advocate for retired police and military K-9s and playing with my two dogs in the yard.
Do you have a favorite spot in Great Parks?
The Gorge Trail at Sharon Woods. It is a great place to hike and enjoy the natural history of glaciers coming through the Cincinnati area.
What are your hopes for Great Parks of Hamilton County’s next 90 years?
All I can really hope for is that Great Parks continues to be an important part of Hamilton County and the tri-state area for many years and decades to come. I hope that people take time to learn about the history of the parks and to respect the land, animals and other guests that come to visit. I hope guests continue to enjoy coming to the parks and stay healthy and safe into the next century.