That was then; This is now


By Deb Shiverdecker

Darke County Parks

Strolling down the trail after taking in some maple syrup fumes at the Sugar Shack, I think about how time has flown! I am celebrating 20 years as an employee of the Darke County Park District and I can’t help but think back on how things were back then. Back when I worked in public accounting, my friend who volunteers here came to me with a job application and said, “This place NEEDS you!” And so I applied and was hired to the Darke County Park District. At the time, we were in the midst of building the log house at Shawnee Prairie. I was so excited, I would walk down daily to check on the progress. It was difficult work by many people; staff and volunteers. We had many donors. What a memorial to the generosity and work ethic of our county!

Since then we have built a picnic shelter, the sugar shack and a blacksmith shop. We have torn down two dilapidated houses on the property and renovated our old greenhouse into a mew to house our animal ambassadors. We moved our maintenance shop out of the red barn, hoping that someday it can be converted into place to teach the agricultural history of our county. And that’s only Shawnee Prairie!

We have accepted donations and written grants to preserve more county parks, we now have three locations with open facilities-Shawnee Prairie Nature Center, Bish Discovery Center and Historic Bear’s Mill. We have parks with wetlands, parks with streams, parks preserving historical areas, and parks that are so green in spring they look like Ireland. Now we are working on building a bike trail and maintaining a 180-year-old working grist mill. I think we have a little of everything that represents our county.

When I started here almost 20 years ago we had a staff of six. The County Auditor and Treasurer took care of our money and we had many volunteers who helped us put on events and raise funds for special projects. We all had job descriptions but that little caveat “and other job duties” meant a lot here. We cleaned bathrooms, we set and cleaned up after events, we pulled weeds, picked up litter, moved wood, dressed in pioneer clothing for events and then we did our own jobs. That included our director!

Thanks to the citizens of Darke County’s insight in passing an additional levy for us a few years ago we have grown even more. We are renovating trails, putting in restrooms, fixing up the Mill which has some serious issues, trying to save a historical property in Ft. Jefferson and so much more. We now have 8 full time employees, 6 part time employees and tons of volunteers. We are now running 14 park areas across the county with over 1,000 acres, three facilities and four historical buildings. We host all the county schools, as well as those surrounding Darke County. We hold large events each year; Maple Sugarin’ on the Prairie, Raptor Run 5K, the historical encampment at the Gathering at Garst, Tour de Darke, Prairie Days, and Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland to name a few. We are going to be adding at least one more event this year which will be the “Bash at Bish”. I can’t wait to see what our creative staff have in mind next! I am so proud of everything we have to improve people’s health and wellbeing in this community.

Our staff is multi-talented and I am proud to be part of this organization. I have been working over the last year to develop our finance department; the County Auditor asked us to move on as we grew. I am now the fiscal officer/treasurer. I also organize the living history event at the Gathering at Garst. We collaborate to raise funds for our great local museum and to teach history in a unique and entertaining way. I also work with volunteers to put on two fundraiser dinners in the late fall in the log house to raise money for our log house maintenance fund. I remember visiting historical Colonial Williamsburg when young; I was so taken with the people in their historical costumes, teaching and demonstrating historical craft and skill. I thought that might be a fun job. You can live your dreams too. Make sure you stop and smell the forest while on your journey. We have those and so much more waiting for you!

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