Forest ranger retiring after 30 years on job
By Meghan Cookemcooke@salisburypost.com
Driving across Rowan County recently, Rodney Kreiser pointed to several stands of trees, easily recalling landowners’ names and discussing the different tree species he helped plant there.
“They need thinning,” he said, eyeing a group of pines as he passed.
After nearly three decades of service, Kreiser, the Rowan County forest ranger for the N.C. Division of Forest Resources, is removing the bronze badge that has been pinned above his left shirt pocket for years.
“I don’t know any area of the county I haven’t walked over,” he said.
The 55-year-old will enter retirement after his final day of work Aug. 31.
“I’ve got mixed feelings about leaving,” he said, noting the close ties he has formed in the community through his work. “But there comes a point in time when it’s time to turn the reins over to someone new.”
As a forest ranger, Kreiser helped citizens with forest management plans and gave advice about timbering property. He also presented Smokey Bear programs for local elementary school children, occasionally donning the bear costume to teach kids about fire safety.
His No. 1 priority was fire control, he said.
He said he was proud that, during his time in the county, no lives were lost in fires once the fire department and the forest service arrived on the scene.
“I consider that due to the excellent emergency service workers we have here in the county,” he said.
Darrell Blackwelder, Rowan County’s horticulture extension agent, said he has known Kreiser for about 27 years.
“I think he’s very knowledgeable,” Blackwelder said. “Certainly, he’ll be missed. Forestry is a very important aspect of Rowan County.”
Over the course of his career, Kreiser has traveled to more than 30 states for nearly every kind of natural disaster, including floods, hurricanes and ice storms. He spent time in Louisiana in the traumatic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I saw things there I’ll probably never forget,” he said.
His work hasn’t always been easy. He has had a few close calls, including an incident during a 1985 California wildfire in which he narrowly escaped with his life after an air tanker dropped fire retardant right over him, saving him and other firefighters.
“You can’t keep a good firefighter down ó or a stupid one,” he said, laughing. “It takes a special breed to do this.”
But after three decades of working in the forest service, Kreiser learned to accept the risks of his job.
“If you live, you’ll learn,” he said. “If you learn, you’ll live.”
His job is a demanding one, he said. Fires were once seasonal events, but as weather patterns have changed, fires have become more common in all seasons.
Kreiser was often on call 24 hours a day. During the drought three years ago, he said he considered himself lucky if he got three hours of sleep each night.
Retirement will finally allow him to relax and enjoy activities for which he had little time.
“For a little while, I’m going to fish and enjoy weekends,” he said. “It never fails. A day you get ready to go fishing, you have a fire.”
Kreiser graduated from East Rowan High School and majored in biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Throughout college, he worked at Dan Nicholas Park. But he credits his career path to an interest in the outdoors he acquired as a Boy Scout.
Kreiser is an Eagle Scout and former scoutmaster of Troop 353 in Spencer.
He began working with the Division of Forest Resources in 1976. He spent six months working in Rockingham County and then returned to Rowan County, where he has been ever since.
Kreiser’s ties to the community run deep. He can trace his ancestry to 1759. He is the eighth generation of his family to live in Rowan County.
“Rowan County has always been home to me,” he said. “And it always will be.”
Kreiser has lived here practically all his life, and in retirement, he has no plans to leave.
“I’ve seen a lot of pretty country, but I like it right here in North Carolina,” he said.
Kreiser expressed gratitude for the emergency service workers he worked alongside and the citizens he assisted.
“To me, it’s been an honor to be able to serve the citizens of this county,” he said.
But most important is the legacy he said he hopes to leave behind.
“If nothing else, I’d like people to know that growing trees, no matter what kind, is extremely important for the county,” he said. “It’s our only renewable resource. They’re very important for the quality of life here in the county.”