Darke Co. Parks gave career direction

By Mitchell Pence

Darke County Parks

Can you believe how far The Darke County Parks have come? For as long as I can remember the Darke County Parks have been one of the core pillars in my life. Since I was a toddler, I have attended preschool programs, summer camps, public programs, and events hosted by the Park District. It was during these years that my love for nature and being outdoors took root. When I was in Jr. High I began to volunteer and help with programs and events and, at that point in my life, I knew for certain that I wanted to work in parks.

This new inspiration and drive to follow a career in natural resources led me to attend Hocking College where I began to learn the names of trees, birds, flowers, and so much more. Through these classes in the field I felt even closer to attaining my goal of working in parks. Between semesters I was required to take an internship and I knew exactly where to go. I became the Darke County Parks seasonal intern in 2014 where I got just a taste of what it may be like to work in this career. I loved every minute of it.

When that internship ended I dove into my second semester with a renewed determination to make it back to the Parks someday.

Fast forward three years after my graduation in 2015 and I land a part time job at the Darke County Parks in 2018! Later that same year I would move to full time and I crossed the first checkpoint in attaining my career goals. I was officially a park naturalist for the Darke County Park District. Little did I know how creative, flexible, and determined I would need to be the next several years.

As COVID-19 spread across the globe in 2020, all of us at the Darke County Parks knew it would be parks and outdoor spaces that would keep us sane. It was barely before the shutdown happened when all of us on the programming staff of the Park District took matters into our own hands and began filming videos, building take-home summer camp boxes, and visiting the windows of our seniors with our birds of prey during the Rest Home Roam series. I had no idea how much of an impact we would have on the communities of Darke County when I became a naturalist.

To think it all started when I was a simple preschooler who attended a program at a newly constructed nature center. Now, 25 years later, I have the privilege to share my passion with the next generation of kids who are trying to find out what career calls to them. Who knows, maybe in 25 more years the next generation of Darke County Park naturalists will write about the guy who brought a hawk to their classroom. I can only hope.