Hannah Thompson-Welch loves her work as Assistant County Ranger in Wayne County, North Carolina and has had a fulfilling career since she graduated from Hazard Community and Technical College with an Associate in Science degree in December of 1999, and earning an Associate in Applied Science in Forest and Wood Technology: Forestry Option in December of 2000. Hannah is from Letcher County and graduated from Fleming Neon High School.
As Assistant County Ranger, she is responsible for providing private landowners with customer service related to all forestry activities within Wayne County. She is primarily a wildland firefighter assigned to initial attack wildfires. She investigates wildfires within her assigned area and takes appropriate law enforcement action. Over the years, she has fought fire in Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky; and provided assistance to hurricane relief efforts in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina and in North Carolina for Hurricane Isabel and Ivan.
Before leaving Kentucky, she worked as a seasonal dispatcher in the Kentucky River District office in Hazard, for Fall Fire Season of 2001. Her No. 1 choice was to stay close to her Letcher County home. “I was happy to be working within three hours of my hometown and the doors of opportunity were swung open,” she said. She has worked 10 years as a Forest Ranger with the NC Forest Service split between Surry, Forsyth, and Wayne counties.
“My career has been filled with opportunities. Every training opportunity is a chance to better myself. So, I have pushed myself and learned from relationships with strong mentors. I have seen some adrenaline-packed days and have learned to manage chaos pretty well. I love the challenge that this job provides. I have focused my attention on environmental education and that is the most fulfilling opportunity that I have learned to share with others,” she said.
Hannah praises the education she received from HCTC. “The courses and hands-on approach to instruction (especially in my forestry classes) prepared me well for the job that I wanted. The Robinson Forest was an excellent classroom.” She said she would recommend HCTC to others. “I am a believer in trying to train and educate yourself locally for the career you want. Unfortunately though, it is not always easy to stay local. I had to move away to get a job and though I have tried numerous times to come “back home” to work, I have not been given that privilege because there are few opportunities to work in forestry in Eastern Kentucky.”
She believes in giving back to her community. She founded and for 10 years directed WildWoods Nature Camp in Hemphill (the community where she grew up) based at the Hemphill Community Center in Jackhorn, KY. She is a Girl Scout Troop Leader for Troop 979 in Deep Run, NC; and is a co-leader for Troop 176 in Kinston, NC.
“I have always wanted a career that I could thrive in. I feel most passionate about environmental education,” she said. She has been involved in presenting and facilitating a curriculum called Project Learning Tree since 2000.
Her family is in Letcher County, including her mother, Gwen Johnson; sister, Sarah Thompson; and nephew, Jayden Sturgill, live in Neon, KY. Her dad, Dean Thompson, lives in Potterfork, KY. Her grandmother, Mable Johnson, lives in Hemphill. She has extended family in the region as well. She noted, “Every now and then I find myself thinking about this John Muir quote and I travel seven hours to come home: ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’”
She lives in Deep Run, North Carolina with her husband, Larry.
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