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Folks You Should Know: Fred Hilton

June 5th, 2012 11:55 am by Susan Kendrick Lauhoff

Folks You Should Know: Fred Hilton

Fred Hilton shares his love of nature with others as a park ranger and naturalist at Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport.

A registered Boy Scout for 50 years, Kingsport native and Bays Mountain Park ranger/naturalist Fred Hilton got the nature "bug" as a youngster. As an only child, Hilton found that being in God’s natural environment was fun. He often hunted and fished with his father and camped out almost monthly with his Boy Scout troop.

Intending to study forestry at the University of Tennessee, Hilton found the school to be a little daunting because of its size and transferred to East Tennessee State University, where he graduated with a degree in biology.

Former college classmate and current co-worker Ken Childress, who serves as Bays Mountain Park manager, said, "Fred is an excellent naturalist. His knowledge of natural history is second to none. He has mastered Botany, Ornithology, Entomology, Limnology, Forestry, and the list goes on.

"When you combine Fred’s knowledge with his passion for teaching, you have a great interpreter and communicator. The job of a naturalist is to interpret the intricate workings of the natural world, so that children and adults will be captivated enough to continue their observations and studies. Fred is able to take complex subjects and present them in ways that are easily understood."

Much of his knowledge was gained while working in seasonal positions with the National Park Service and at Camp Davy Crockett, the Sequoyah Council's Boy Scout camp. Stints in Glacier National Park, Waterton National Park and the Shenandoah National Park can be found on his resume. After college, he opened up an outfitting shop with a friend in the California Sierra’s.

Once he returned to Kingsport, his plan was to save enough money and return west. However, fate led Hilton in a different direction after he was hired as a teacher at Sevier Middle School. He met, fell in love with and married another teacher, and they had two children. After 17 years at Sevier, Hilton accepted the position at Bays Mountain Park as a naturalist.

He is currently the environmental sciences, programs and maintenance coordinator, though he still enjoys teaching. Denise Johnson, a teacher who worked with Hilton at Sevier and continues to take classes to Bays Mountain Park, offers her appreciation for how he works with the kids: "Fred is a great guy. He is so patient with the students and is dedicated to his work, while teaching them in a fun way that they enjoy and understand."

Childress reiterates Hilton's enthusiasm and dedication for teaching others about the outdoors.

"Fred loves people, loves to teach, and is dedicated to preserving our natural world. The fate of the plants and animals on our planet lie in the hands of our children. Fred’s kind demeanor and passion for teaching make children respond to him in a very positive way."

Ranger Bob Culler, who also works at Bays Mountain Park, added that Hilton is a natural born teacher and said, "So many have learned about the park flowers and wildlife through him."

And, to attest to the interest Hilton sparks in students he once taught, you need not look far. Three of his former students are currently working for the park.

Visiting Hilton’s office is like visiting a small museum of taxidermy. There are skulls of small animals found in and around the area, photos of teaching outdoors and live specimens of black widow spiders and Madagascar hissing roaches (the size of mice). His warm smile and the twinkle in his eye comfort the faint at heart. Stories of humor, teaching trips, "finds" and animal encounters abound as he shares with glee.

As one might expect, Hilton’s hobbies also include outdoor activities: canoeing, hiking, fly fishing, occasional hunting and playing in the creek or river around his family farm with his twin 9-year-old granddaughters.

"I am looking forward to taking them to Glacier Park one day," he said.

With a servant’s heart, Hilton would like to volunteer upon retirement and work in the school system with those students in alternative programs or in suspension.

"I want to do things that matter," he confides. He has a high school friend who is a missionary in Venezuela and would like to help with teaching their locals sustainable farming.

His more immediate plans are to attend his 40th Dobyns-Bennett High School reunion and Glacier Park Lodges’s 100th anniversary.

Hilton does not consider himself a hero of any kind and believes stories should be shared about others. However, he is a hero to nature and those he teaches.

Perhaps Childress expressed it best: "Other parks should be so lucky as to have such a dedicated naturalist as Fred."

Folks You Should Know is a monthly feature about a local resident with an interesting story to tell. Watch for it on the first Sunday of each month in Sunday Stories. Share your ideas about folks we should feature by emailing Sunday Stories editor Carmen Musick at

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