End of an Era; TWRA Officer Wayne Rich Retires

After 37-years-of-service to the hunters, anglers and boaters of Tennessee, Jefferson County Wildlife Officer Wayne Rich has retired.

Wayne began his career with TWRA on April 1, 1982 a few days after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science. His first assignment was part-time boating safety enforcement on the Knoxville waterfront during the World’s Fair, followed by a full-time position as the Hawkins County Wildlife Officer in June. He transferred to Jefferson County on the opening day of deer archery season in 1984 and worked as the county’s only officer until 2005.

During his career spanning nearly four decades, Wayne has been recognized as the Wildlife Officer of The Year in his work unit five-times and Boating Officer of The Year once. The Shikar-Safari Club International and the Tennessee Wildlife Officer’s Association have also named him statewide Wildlife Officer of The Year during his career.

Known as a fearless and dedicated officer, Wayne excelled in his law enforcement duties. He made eight Boating Under the Influence arrests in one year and joined fellow officers Scott Hollenbeck and Carson Williams to arrest six suspects for Boating Under the Influence, Driving Under the Influence and Public Intoxication in one day. The bear hunters in Cocke, Sevier and Jefferson Counties also knew Wayne well. One night in 1995, he and Officers Hollenbeck, Shane Bunch and Jeff Bishop issued twenty-citations charging five-individuals for killing three bears illegally in three different counties. Those who dared to keep venomous snakes were no strangers to Wayne either. He and officers Hollenbeck and Shelley Hammonds executed a search warrant seizing over 40-vipers from a snake-handling pastor on one occasion and taking several more in a different case after raiding an adult bookstore in Cosby. The deer poachers around the county also feared Wayne. In only two of the hundreds of deer cases he made, he successfully prosecuted different suspects for illegally killing trophy whitetail bucks costing them $10,000 each in fines, court costs and restitution. Wayne was also instrumental in seizing numerous guns, vehicles and the revocation of hunting and fishing licenses in connection with poaching activity during his career. 

While enforcing wildlife and boating laws, Wayne recovered several stolen boats and vehicles, apprehended fugitives from justice, seized drugs and other contraband, and arrested multiple suspects in connection to murder. A few special assignments he participated in included Operation Smoky, Operation Moonstruck, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Aside from law enforcement duties, Wayne was involved with stocking deer, turkeys, river otters and hacking bald eagles with the American Eagle Foundation. He helped lay the groundwork for the wildlife observation area at Mossy Creek and certified thousands of students through the hunter education program. He has also been heavily involved with the Scholastic Clay Target Program since 2004, leading the Jefferson County 4H Patriot Shooters to multiple state and national titles.

At a retirement party held at the TWRA Regional Office in Morristown today, Wayne reflected on his career, “There’s been a lot of water passed under the bridge and a lot of footsteps through the woods the last 37-plus years.  It’s been a roller-coaster ride…a lot of ups and a lot of downs.”  He echoed these remarks in a recent social media post,  “Today is the final page of the final chapter of my career with TWRA…I’ve met a lot of good people and dealt with a few crazies along the way.  To the next generation of wildlife officers, happy hunting, be safe and God Bless.”

While boots the size of Wayne’s are difficult to fill, his son Chase might be able to come close. Chase was hired as a TWRA Boating Enforcement Officer in 2015 and is also assigned to Jefferson County. In fact just this Monday, Wayne and Chase apprehended two suspects at Shady Grove Access Area who were stark naked in the backseat of a stolen vehicle.  One occupant, a convicted felon with outstanding warrants, possessed heroin, 14-grams of methamphetamine, a loaded handgun, body armor and stolen property.  Fortunately, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office placed the charges sparing Wayne from future court appearances, hopefully.  Wayne also issued three big game citations for road hunting turkeys during his last week on the job. 

Talk about easing into retirement.

After his retirement party ended this afternoon, a call for boater assistance on Douglas Lake came in.  Chase could be overheard asking Wayne on their way out the door, “Do you want to go get a stranded boater?”  Wayne replied, “Let me go home and change clothes first.”

There will never be another game warden like Wayne Rich.

Source: TWRA Matt Cameron