Hancock Park District Natural Resource Manager Bob Sams helps 7-year-old Jaysie Shock with her gloves during a cattail pulling venture at Oakwoods Nature Preserve. Volunteers are vital to the park department’s work, and Jaysie and her family are among a regular fleet of willing helpers. (Photo by Randy Roberts)



Lindsey Shock and her daughters put on their gardening gloves and bug spray and wandered into the patch of flora at Oakwoods Nature Preserve.

“This is a good one!” Lindsey shouted, turning a narrow-leaf cattail that was nearly as tall as her upside-down and pointing out the tiny white tuber at the base of its stem.

“I think those are the tastiest part,” she said, likening the flavor of the tuber to that of creamy mashed potatoes. Then she peeled off the outer layer of the plant’s stalk and split it open, revealing the fibrous white layer inside. This, too, is edible and tastes like potatoes, she assured.

But the cattails are an invasive species that crowd out other, wanted growth, said Bob Sams, natural resource manager for the Hancock Park District.

“They look kind of neat and green, but they will literally overtake everything,” he said.

Shock and her two daughters, 13-year-old Onyx and 7-year-old Jaysie, were volunteering with Sams to remove as many of the cattails as possible on the overcast but steamy afternoon. They’re among the countless volunteers who help the park system operate year-round, with programming and serene outdoor spaces for people of all ages.

And they were more than happy to take a few bundles of the otherwise unwanted plants home for dinner.

“The plant does have a use,” Shock said.

She and her daughters are no strangers to volunteering with the park system, having previously helped pull invasive garlic mustard. But the family also volunteers its time and talents elsewhere around Findlay every chance they get. Shock said the community has been good to her and the many resources available have helped her get back on her feet before. At 33 years old, she wouldn’t leave Findlay for the world.

And the volunteer spirit has spread to her girls, who were cheerfully pulling up cattails and squealing over the various bugs being unearthed in the process.

“You know what I mostly love about my life?” asked Jaysie. “Helping out the planet. I love helping in the community. And helping the world.”

And Sams was happy for their help.

“For my job, the four of us, what we’ll do in an hour, it would take me half a day to do” alone, he said.

Park district volunteers range widely in age and interest. Sams might recruit volunteers to help monitor bluebird boxes or spring wildflowers, or to collect seeds. Other volunteer needs include frog and toad surveying, regular bird counting in the Oakwoods feeder area and biodiversity recording of native and escaped plants, wildlife and fungi. He said Marathon Petroleum Corp. regularly sends volunteer teams, and plenty of Boy Scout troops also offer their services. A number of retirees and families also lend a hand.

Sams said it’s good to see the public getting involved in the park system, noting that it gives community members a hands-on idea of what the network of parks has to offer. It’s also great exercise.

Erin Tannehill was chosen as the park district’s 2017 volunteer of the year and said she’s “glad to be able to help others enjoy what the parks have to offer.”

She got involved with the park system in 2014 when she took an interest in the organization’s American Girl Tea.

“I have always loved history, nature and American Girl, so I thought it would be a great experience to help with an event centered around those things,” Tannehill said. “I love watching our ideas come to life and the kids’ and parents’ reactions to all the things we’ve worked hard to put together.”

Kris Campling of Findlay began doing simple trash pickup for the park district and has graduated to building simple trash cans out of two-by-fours and metal rings. He estimates he’s made about a dozen of the trash cans in the past five years.

Campling works nights at Ball Metal and said he enjoys spending time in the parks when he can. His favorites are Riverbend Recreation Area in Findlay and Aeraland Recreation Area in Fostoria.

“It relaxes me. It kind of gives me something to focus on, too, aside from work. It doesn’t cost anything, either,” he said.

Andy Estrada works in the global procurement department at Marathon and helps coordinate volunteer efforts that support the company’s core value of environmental stewardship. Twice this past spring, that took the shape of teams using canoes to collect trash along the banks of the Blanchard River. Volunteers pulled bottles, cans, milk jugs, candy wrappers and even a plastic tarp from the area in outings that doubled as a teambuilding activity.

“I think people have enjoyed it,” Estrada said of the river cleaning project. “Especially if you get some decent weather out there, it’s a pretty enjoyable thing to do.”

Estrada said he’s happy to do his part to keep the environment safe, healthy and enjoyable for all — even if he does spend the majority of his time behind a desk.

“Even though I work all day inside, I consider myself an outdoor person,” he said.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, contact the park district’s volunteer coordinator at 419-425-7275 or email acoburn-griffis@hancockparks.com.


Twitter: @BrennaGriteman