My Catawba County
Meet Our Rangers: Tabitha Hope
This is the third in series of Q&As profiling rangers from the Catawba County Park System, which is comprised of Bakers Mountain in Hickory, Riverbend in Conover, St. Stephens in Hickory, and the soon-to-be-opened Mountain Creek in Sherrills Ford. This month, we’re learning more about Park Ranger Tabitha Hope, who has been wrangling pups at St. Stephens Parkfor the past 10 years.
Name: Tabitha Hope
Where are you from? Gastonia, North Carolina
How long have you been a ranger? Five years part-time, then six years full-time
Educational Background: Associate of Science degree from CVCC and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from UNC Wilmington
Park currently working at: St. Stephens Park
How long have you been with Catawba County Parks? I worked at Bakers Mountain Park for 2 years, and now have been at St. Stephens for 10 years
Area of expertise/specialization/interest: I love hiking and identifying things in nature, and I have a passion for animals, especially cats and dogs.
What inspired you to become a ranger?
When I was growing up, my parents would take us camping in an RV; we’d visit different parks and we’d go hiking. The one trip I remember distinctly that got me interested in being a park ranger was to Shenandoah Valley. We went on a guided hike with one of the rangers there and it was a lot of fun; I thoroughly enjoyed it. The ranger's wife was also there; he was a seasonal ranger and she was doing photography and they moved to different parks. I thought, "Ooh, that sounds like fun. I’m going to do that."
What do you most enjoy about being a ranger?
One of the things I like most about working here is that I get to pet puppies all day. I really love dogs. I have a dog named Victor at home, and two cats, Arya and Leonard. I do love animals. Seeing the dogs, getting to know the dog owners and talking to park visitors is a great part of my job as a ranger.
I also enjoy experiencing and sharing nature with others. Every so often a child under 12 comes with their parent and they can't go into the dog park, so I'll take them around the park, out into the garden to see what we can find or along the LITeracy Trail to read the story. I've opened the bird houses before to show kids the bird nest inside or we just walk around to try to find a butterfly or a spider’s web. I used to lead nature hikes when I worked at Bakers Mountain Park, which I really enjoyed, and it’s fun to have the chance to interact with visitors out in nature here at St. Stephens too.
Tell us about your favorite moment, memory or experience as a park ranger.
It's hard to pick because I’ve had so many great experiences as a ranger. When I worked at Bakers Mountain Park, we had an Eastern king snake in the office named Slithers; it was so much fun to show it to the kids and to share with them some information about it. Once I found a hognose snake out on the trail; I’ve really enjoyed all the times I’ve come across reptiles or animals at the parks. I was ecstatic to see a fawn here at St. Stephens one day, and I’ve also seen a gray fox both here and at Bakers Mountain.
I also have so many fun memories with the dogs. One that really pops out is once, I was sitting on the hill inside the dog park talking with people, and Lakota, a collie, came up, started playing with me, and knocked me down. Next thing I knew, he took my hat and ran off with it. All I could think about was how I was going to explain to my supervisor that I need a new hat because “the dog ate it”!?
Other special experiences I’ve had with the dogs include playing ball with Molly, a rat terrier that you can usually pick up by the ball still in her mouth because she won’t let go of it to give it back; Mallory, a basset hound/beagle who was always so excited to see me… One time I was on the floor in the office petting Mallory, and the owner told the dog it was time to leave. When I started to get up, Mallory stood up on her hind legs and kind of pushed me back down as if to say “no.” She just didn’t want to leave.
What is your favorite feature, aspect, or spot at St. Stephens Park?
While our short nature trail is nice, my favorite spot is definitely the dog park. When I go down there, I can have so much fun playing with the dogs and talking with people. I enjoy getting to know the owners and have built a closeness with some of the dogs that visit regularly. There are some that have to say hi when they arrive and a few that won’t leave until they say goodbye to me. Sometimes there’s a dog who doesn't want to leave the dog park, but I'll go out there and say, "Hey, come here, come here." They won’t come to their owner but they will come to me.
How are parks making living better in Catawba County?
The parks give people a place to come to enjoy nature. They are a good place to come for nature education and for exercise. Many of our visitors come to the dog park every day to exercise their dogs and to get time outdoors and exercise for themselves. Our parks are free; there’s just a small fee of $20 a year to use the dog park which, if you do the math, is only 6 cents a day. It’s an inexpensive place people can come to do something with their dog and for their own health and well-being.