When Dennis Solon retired two years ago with nearly 31 years of service for the Ohio Division of Wildlife -- all at the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area -- he left with a profound love of the 3,671-acres of swamp, farmland, river and woodlands.
It seems he loved it so much, that now he's back, only this time, as manager of Ohio's largest inland marsh.
"I've always had a passion for the Killbuck Marsh, and I will until the day they spread my ashes over the place," said Solon this past week, his first on the job as head of the four-member team that manages not only the KMWA, but Funk Bottoms and five other public lands under the auspices of the Division of Wildlife. "This place wasn't just a job, it was an existence for me."
When the position of manager came up after Mike Ervin took a promotion to state waterfowl biologist, Solon felt he needed to return to the place he feels to strongly about, re-uniting with fellow veteran KMWA employees John Abele and Erich Long, along with Greg Hochstetler, who ironically, replaced Solon when he retired as a wildlife technician.
"We know each other and have always had a good working relationship," said Solon of working with Abele and Long. "It'll make the job that much easier and that much more productive.
"And Greg brings knowledge from previously working in North Carolina."
Solon, who holds a bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University in wildlife management, says his plans for the KMWA are simple -- do what the public wants.
"I work for you -- the people who appreciate wildlife and wetlands," he said.
More specifically, Solon said waterfowl is the top priority.
"It's a very important area for waterfowl, but there's a lot of associated things that go with it," Solon said. "We have 2,000 acres of wetlands and the higher grounds we have to take care of, too."
While working on wetlands isn't the same as when Solon started with the Division of Wildlife back in 1980, mainly because of permits and regulations, the hope is he and his staff will be able to continue to provide the public with a bustling wildlife area.
"I want to do anything we can do to protect the wetlands we have, and promote, or convert, different wetlands where feasible," said Solon. "Places that are too wet for rabbits, and too dry for muskrats."
The KMWA is a unique piece of property that has changed over the years. At the turn of the century, a winding Killbuck Creek snaked through the valley between Wooster and Shreve, dropping a mere 10 feet along the way. In the 1920s, the river was channelized, opening fields to farming and changing the landscape. Over time, though, the Killbuck ditch has silted in, and has taken on a new dynamic. And, it's still changing.
It's one of the things Solon likes about the KMWA, and also one of the challenges in managing the area.
"Every day you get up, the wildlife area is a different picture," said Solon.
While Solon and his staff are looking to improve nesting opportunities for waterfowl, he hasn't forgotten about the upland game hunters.
"This used to be some of the best rabbit hunting in the state right here in the Killbuck Valley," said Solon. "We're going to try to bring back better rabbit hunting."
The KMWA is also a top location for public hunting of deer and turkey, and has on occasion, been a hot spot for early fall dove hunting. Solon doesn't plan to overlook those species, either,
"When I leave here at night, I'm just like everyone else, I want to see ducks. I want to see deer. I want to see turkeys," said Solon. "It's a very diverse area with good access. You're going to see something here that makes you grab your binoculars."
After two years away, Solon realized he just had too much to offer to not return to the swamps, farmland, woods and river.
"This area is my backyard. I know it like you know your yard," said Solon. "I've been working or recreating on it for so long, I've gotten to know it, and I think my knowledge of it is a big advantage."
When it's all said and done, though, there's always been one thing that's kept Solon returning to work in the Killbuck Valley Marsh Wildlife Area.
"I grew up playing in the water as a kid," he said, "and I guess it never went away."