Dayton’s Five Rivers MetroParks has been raking in quite a few well-deserved props lately — including National Geographic to Canoe & Kayak Magazine shout-outs. Our access to outdoor recreation and exploration is hard to match.
Plentiful resources and natural spaces aren’t enough for a city to become a thriving outdoor destination. It takes the passion and hard work of Daytonians like Grace Dietsch, Five Rivers MetroParks biologist, to help make our city’s opportunities a reality.
Before moving to Dayton in 2012, Dietsch frequently moved around the country for work — living in mountainous towns, once in a van by a river and other memorable locations — but said her roots have grown deeper in the Gem City since moving to the area.
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Through her research and commitment to Dayton’s wild spaces, Dietsch has been a crucial part in the MetroPark’s success and the reason she is our Daytonian of the Week.
What brought you to Dayton? Where are you from?
“I moved to Dayton in 2012 when I moved in with the man who I now call my husband. We met while serving on the Ohio Interagency Wildland Fire Crew that same year and were both on the same two western wildfire assignments. When I first came to Dayton, I immediately got a great vibe from the community. I am from Rio Grande, Ohio, which has a population of around 800 people and throughout my adult life I’ve lived in various other places throughout Ohio, Virginia, Washington and Oregon. I’ve lived in small towns, college towns, mountain towns, and literally lived in a van by a river for a while. My roots were always very shallow, but they’ve grown rather deep here in Dayton!”
Are there some cool plants or animals that are in the Dayton-area that people might not be aware of?
Englewood MetroPark has one of the healthiest and most diverse salamander populations in the entire state. Huffman Prairie has an amazing prairie that will be in full bloom soon – this is a great place to see hummingbirds by the dozens, butterflies galore, and several uncommon grassland birds. I could go on and on about the cool things you can find at every single one of the Five Rivers MetroParks locations.”
Why did you become a biologist and what have you enjoyed about your job?
“This is my dream job! From a very young age I have felt a strong desire to be a voice for the voiceless plants and animals with which we share this planet. I’ve always dreamed of being in a position where I could make a real difference and this is it! Five Rivers MetroParks is an amazing place to work. There are so many passionate and dedicated folks here and everyone strives to accomplish what MetroParks was created to do — to protect natural areas, parks and river corridors, and to promote the conservation and use of these lands and waterways for the ongoing benefit of the people in the region.”
What’s been your favorite project or activity that you’ve done with the MetroParks?
“My favorite activities involve volunteers. We have amazing volunteers who work with us on a regular basis – from growing and planting trees and wildflowers, removing invasive species, conducting habitat assessments, clearing trails, picking up fishing line around ponds, and participating on prescribed burns. They work so hard right alongside our staff and we truly couldn’t do a lot of these activities without their support.”
“If I had to pick one activity, I would have to say conducting prescribed burns is my favorite. A good fire regime does wonders for restoring and maintaining a prairie, so the rewards are huge. Carrying out a burn take a lot of strategic planning, hard work and collaboration. It requires the support from nearly all departments at Metroparks. Plus, nothing brings a team together like safely and successfully burning a large field of grass.”
Why is it important for a community to support their MetroParks?
I can think of so many reasons! MetroParks exists to protect this community’s natural heritage – that means we are here to protect the biodiversity, native plants and animals, and cultural and historical components on more than 16,000 acres of land! We even have a policy that states we must keep at least 90% of lands we manage as natural area. Maintaining this much land as greenspace is good for the environment, good for the health of the community, and is good for the economic development of Dayton. MetroParks has 30 locations throughout the Dayton area that are clean and safe.”
Which MetroPark is your favorite?
“Hmmmm….that might be the toughest question of them all. My favorite is the one I am working in that day. I know that sounds cliché, but I really do find something uniquely amazing about each and every location. They are all beautifully maintained by park staff and play an equally-vital role in our community’s natural environment.”
Describe your perfect day in Dayton! What would you do?
“My perfect day would start out with a seat next to one of the wetlands at the Great Miami Mitigation Bank before sunrise. I’d spend the morning peacefully observing the wildlife and enjoying my surroundings. Then I’d want to paddle down the Twin Creek with my family for a few hours, stopping to fish some of the deeper pools along the way. The 2nd Street Market would be open on my perfect day, so we’d go there for spanakopita and baklava for lunch. Then I would hit up some of the cool shops in the Oregon District for a little shopping spree. I would end the day at Woodman Fen Conservation Area to see the outstanding summer display of lightening bugs. I’d probably be hungry again, so I’d have to stop at Zombie Dogz for a seasonal dog concoction.”
What keeps you busy when you’re not working with the parks?
“Our 20-month old daughter, 4 dogs, 2 cats, and 68 chickens! My husband and I bought a home on 10 acres last year. About 6 acres of that is wooded and I attempt to manage those woods like it’s my second job. The remaining acreage is pasture for future farm animals, a little bit of prairie and a LOT berry plants. It is a farm in the making and definitely keeps our family very busy.”
Why is Dayton special to you?
“I consider Dayton to be my second home. The people that live here are amazing and I have made so many good friends. There is great music, amazing places to eat, and really good local breweries. I have lived in mountains and foothills nearly all of my life and have a perpetual need to see big trees, hike steep ravines, and soak my feet in a cool, clear creek on a hot day. The fact that I can have all of these experiences, know such awesome people, and work at an amazing organization makes Dayton a very special and unique place to live.”