New naturalist arrives at unusual time


One thing we know about the new interpretive naturalist on the Clermont Park District team, he’s pretty good at understatement.

“It’s been a weird time for onboarding,” said Joe Scharf, who was hired last month just as the coronavirus threat began to affect wide swaths of the population.

The cancellation of Park District programs and events, office closures and stay-at-home orders conspired to keep him largely out of sight of the nature-loving public he will be serving.

“I guess you would consider me a generalist,” Scharf said. “But I do love talking about parasites.  Those are kind of my favorite things.

“Mosquitoes and tics are kind of the main ones we see in this area. Liver flukes. This is the part of my work that I enjoy. How do I make parasites palatable for the general public? That’s the challenge.”

(See? Understatement.)

To that end, Scharf has developed a trailside kit hikers can use to assist in their understanding of local parasites. It includes information on Lyme disease and the role of parasites in the food chain.

Originally from Dayton, Joe is the middle child of three boys. He came to Cincinnati after high school, earning a degree in biology from Xavier University in 2017.

“I was in pre-med and prepping for the MCAT (medical school entrance exam),” he said. “I could do all the science, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I started looking at another direction.”

Which he found via an internship and fellowship at Cincinnati Nature Center. There he got to spend time outdoors and hone his interpretive skills. (He also got to meet his future colleague, Park District interpretive naturalist Robin Green.)

Scharf went back inside for a while – he served as manager of guest services and membership at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati – but always had an eye on getting back to the outdoors and doing programs.

He is working on his master’s degree in biology at Miami University through Project Dragonfly with an expected graduation date in December 2021.

Meantime, you might find Scharf practicing his other passion – yo-yos.

He’s been internationally recognized for his talent, coming in 77th in the 2019 World Yo-Yo Competition in Cleveland.

He has more than 60 of the stringed toys – his favorite is a titanium model from a now-defunct Canadian company – and Park District guests can expect to see him use yo-yos in his work.

“I always have at least one in my backpack,” he said. “You can make pictures with the strings and I can make a bunny. That’s something I can do in my job as a naturalist, bring that out to show the kids.”