MOUNT VERNON — He has done everything that he’s ever wanted to do professionally. For 54-year-old Mike Miller, however, three decades in his dream career is enough.
Miller, a longtime Knox County Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) wildlife officer, retired earlier this month. Miller, who has been working for the State of Ohio in Columbus for the past few years, cited no immediate reason for his decision except that the time was finally right.
“I have 32 years altogether with the state of Ohio,” Miller said. “I also have 30 years of law, as (a wildlife) officer in Ohio. I’ve also got another year and a half in law enforcement. I also worked one summer season with the park service in Washington State and another year as an official wildlife agent in the state of Delaware, before coming back to Ohio DNR. That’s a long time.”
Miller, who originates from the Cincinnati area, graduated from Fairfield High School and received an Applied Science degree from Hocking College, before coming to Knox County in 1995.
“I knew what I wanted to do since I was in Middle School,” Miller said. “One thing I was told by my dad is that you only live one time and you need to find something you enjoy. So I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to do that. Hocking College was two of the best years I’ve ever had. They definitely prepared me to get into this field. I started working right away, but when you’re doing law enforcement, that’s a young man’s thing anyway.”
For now, Miller’s taking three months off, but retiring at such a young age has opened up a world of possibilities for him. Miller has signed a contract with the Educational Services Center and is looking forward to being a teacher’s aide in Knox County, as a way of giving back to the community. In the meantime, it’s still all sinking in.
“Actually, I’ve had a couple of job interviews out here on different things, just to see what’s out here,” Miller said. “I’ll get busy. I guess you could really call it a semi-retirement.”
It didn’t take long for Miller to realize that relocating to Knox County was the right move.
“This is a great community,” Miller said. “When I became an officer and we moved up here, almost everybody I ran into asked me what church I go to and, if I wasn’t going to church, would I go along to theirs? It’s a very welcoming community, here.”
Althea Dye, secretary and event coordinator with Knox County Pheasants Forever, recalls Miller’s work with young people and his early and continued support with the organization’s annual Youth Day, which introduces kids to the outdoors, each spring.
“He has always been a supporter of ours with our banquets,” Dye said. “Pretty much any of our activities we have done. For Youth Day, Mike just provided tons of resource information to us and that has continued. That includes a lot of phone numbers, people, names, emails and whatever and that helped us get people that could help us with (Youth Day), to see if they could come that day or, if they could not come, could they provide or help us with information.”
Miller has worked with children to educate. He has also done some important work with farmers in the county.
“Mike has always been a great person to work with, as a wildlife officer,” said Knox County Water and Soil Program Administrator Rob Clendening. “He has always been interested in the community, always easy to work with and he always treated landowners really well. We have a wildlife program with the Soil and Water Conservation District that is a joint grant opportunity with the Division of Wildlife. Mike was instrumental in helping to set that up, originally, with the conservation district to help assist landowners around the county with damage to their crops — primarily from deer — and work on other issues around Knox County that help supplement the private wildlife biologist and wildlife officer activities in the county.”
Miller has seen just about everything, including some things he wasn’t expecting.
“My wife and kids and I went out to Kroger and we came home to our place,” Miller said. “We own a little four and a half acre place just outside of town with a little spot of woods in the back. We came home and pulled into the driveway and some coonhounds treed (a raccoon) on our property. Not a big deal because people run their dogs all summer. So, I put the groceries in the house, knowing someone was going to come for their dogs. You can’t hunt raccoons and you can’t kill raccoons out of season, so you can’t possess a firearm when you’re running your dogs in the summertime. So, I just decided to hide and stand by near those dogs until the owner show up. So, I’m just standing there, wearing blue jeans and holding a flashlight. All of a sudden five or six guys show up back there and they had a .22 rifle, which they cannot have. So, they were going to shoot the raccoon, but I turned on my flashlight and identified myself as a state wildlife officer and said, ‘What are you doing? Put the gun down,’ and all that good stuff. It turned out this guy was trying to sell his dog to some guys from Kentucky. So, I brought them all back up to the house. I only wrote a ticket to the guy who owned the dogs because he had a rifle. I cited him for hunting raccoons out of season. It was about $100 fine back then. Then, as soon as I left, those guys were standing in the driveway at my own house. So, after I sent them on their way. Then, my wife told me that, while they were walking past our house in our backyard, they were discussing how they have to be careful because the game warden lives around here somewhere. They said that and they were in my backyard. That’s one of the funniest things that I had happened to me and you can’t make that stuff up.”
In a generation, Miller has seen it all, including black bears, bobcats, coyotes, a couple of badgers and even some flying squirrels.
“I saw these flying squirrels up along the Mohican River,” Miller said. “You don’t think of those but we have some of those. Right around here you had the Kokosing River, and I particularly like the fish streams for smallmouth bass, and you can get them up to 20 inches in the river; not a lot but enough to keep it interesting. I was truly blessed to be able to work here.”
Habitat and location have made this area a sportsman’s paradise.
“Knox County, for hunting, has everything to offer.” Miller said. “For fishing it has almost everything to offer. Also its location is so good. It’s in the center of the state, so if you want to do something anywhere in the state of Ohio, this is a great place to live.”
The one quality that has set Knox County apart for Miller has been the people.
“Over the course of my career, I worked with many wonderful people,” he said. “Whether they are people that own a home or own a farm, or people that run our local government with all the cities and villages in the county, I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people. It’s a very nice community. They’ve made it great for me. Everybody in this county has.”
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