Harry “Junior” Ward, Jr. recently retired from the North Carolina Forest Service as the Haywood County Ranger. Ward, a 1977 Haywood Community College Forest Management Technology graduate, dedicated 32 years to the job. He began his service as a smokechaser in Haywood County. He became assistant county ranger for Haywood County and remained in that position until 2004 when he became county ranger.

Ward has worked on fires all over the United States from Yellowstone National Park and the Everglades to many states in between, as well as all across North Carolina. He also worked on several natural disasters including five hurricanes, the blizzard of 1993, and the floods of 2003.

The Maggie Valley resident says the two most memorable fires he dealt with during his tenure was in 1987 on Sheepback Mountain in Maggie Valley and in 2008 at Pinnacle Ridge in Balsam.

Ward says his job included working with private landowners dealing with forest management issues such as tree planning, logging jobs, pest control, field mitigation, how to re-forest the land, and silvaculture practices. He estimates that half of the work is actual fire calls while 30 percent is forest management.

“I went to HCC because it is one of the best forestry schools in the nation,” Ward explains. “As a student, you learn to do the practical things that you will do in the woods. When you come from HCC you are ahead of the game.”

Ward’s assistant ranger is also a graduate of HCC. Dwayne Vigil finished the Forest Management Program in 2003.

While Ward plans to spend a lot of time with his son in retirement, he also plans to still be involved with the forest service.

Scores of people turned out recently for Ward’s retirement sendoff at HCC. “Time has gone by quickly,” he addressed the crowd. “It’s bittersweet to reach this point. I got to work with and learn from a lot of great people. It’s been a great ride.