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Obermiller takes the helm

Tom Jackson • Jan 4, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Gary Obermiller’s career at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources may have begun at an early age.

   The new chief of the Division of Watercraft was 11 years old when he was eager to train his new beagle puppy to hunt rabbits. He set a trap to try to catch a rabbit.

   Instead, the trap caught a skunk by the leg and a neighbor called the Division of Wildlife. A local wildlife officer freed the skunk and tracked down Obermiller, explaining the skunk was fine but the boy had done wrong.

   The encounter made a big impression on young Obermiller, who realized working as an outdoors officer was what he wanted to do, too.

   Obermiller, 49, who grew up just south of Norwalk and attended Firelands Schools, became the new chief of the Division of Watercraft a few weeks ago, taking control of a division that enforces boating rules on lakes, investigates boating accidents and teaches boating safety classes.

   “Boating is big business in the state of Ohio,” Obermiller said. “We rank ninth in the country in the number of registered boats”

   The Division of Watercraft has its headquarters in Columbus and has 11 district offices, including offices in Sandusky, Maumee Bay, Cleveland and Ashtabula. Obermiller supervises about 200 employees. Half of those employees are commissioned law enforcement officers.

   The division’s employees enforce boating rules, including the law against boating while drunk. When a serious accident occurs involving Lake Erie boats, division officers investigate. When public dollars are spent for a boating ramp or transient marina, Obermiller’s division supervises the work.

   Obermiller brings a long background in outdoors work and law enforcement to the job.

   While in high schoool, he spent two years in the resource conservation program at EHOVE. He is possibly the highest-ranking EHOVE student in state government, his friends say.

   “If there was any one move in my life that set me on the right course, it was that move right there” said Obermiller, referring to his decision to enroll in EHOVE.

   Dean Sheldon Jr., one of Obermiller’s instructors at EHOVE, became a good friend of Obermiller.

   “He was a good student and enthusiastic participant in our activities,” said Sheldon, who also said Obermiller spent much of his time volunteering for the Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve.

   Obermiller has worked for 29 years at ODNR and at one point headed the agency’s law enforcement efforts. When he was younger, he worked part time on weekends as a Wakeman police officer. His biggest case was helping to solve the burglary of a Mickey Mart in Birmingham.

   He said his biggest goal is to provide good customer service for Ohio’s boaters.

   Obermiller has owned a boat since he graduated from high school and has hunted and fished all of his life.

   “We never forget where our paychecks come from” he said.

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