Princeton Times


October 6, 2013

Naturalist Jim Phillips ready to retire from Pipestem State Park

PRINCETON — Long-time Pipestem State Park Naturalist Jim Phillips will hang up his hiking boots on Tuesday.

A youthful interest in birds led Phillips to assume the role in November of 1984.

Thinking back to his childhood, Phillips finds it difficult to remember a time when he wasn't obsessed with birds. At first, his family was skeptical and did not show a great deal of interest in the topic.

“I've always been interested in birds,” Phillips said.

Phillips couldn't remember a time when he wasn't interested in birds. This was not an interest that his family shared.

“I was the family odd-ball,” Phillips joked. “And then they became interested because I was interested.”

Then, Phillips began going to Pipestem State Park.

Phillips did find encouragement from a friend of his dad along with a bird-watching uncle in Elkins. Yandel Page, a preacher at the Princeton Presbyterian Church, also provided a great deal of encouragement.

Phillips added, “I was about 12 to 14 years old when the park was opened and the first naturalist was Oliver Johnson, a retired extension agent.”

Phillips went along on many nature walks and hikes with Johnson and soon decided that he wanted to follow Johnson as a naturalist. Phillips matriculated to Concord University where he majored in biology.

“I was really fortunate that the biology department had a good staff that the professors taught the field classes,” Phillips said. Phillips graduated with majors in education and biology from Concord.

After a few years of teaching, Phillips began volunteering as a seasonal naturalist at the park. Two years later, he became the full-time naturalist at Pipestem in November of 1984.

Phillips said his job was to manage the nature center, the employees and building included, to talk to guests and answer their questions, and to explain the natural connections to southern West Virginia in interpretative hikes.

Phillips particularly enjoyed when children who visited the park on a school field trip brought their own children back to the park as adults.

After working a partial week this week, Phillips plans to work Monday before hanging up his hiking boots.

Philips' wife, Judy, a chemistry teacher at Princeton Senior High School, always jokes that it's hard to tell when he's at work and when he's not.

“Well, my wife kids me, she says 'How do you know when you're working and when you're not?'” Phillips said. “When I'm off, I go bird watching and hiking and that's what I do when I'm working as well.”

Phillips does plan to spend more time with Judy. Until his retirement, their schedules were complete opposites because school was out during the summer and that's when the park is at it's busiest.

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