My Catawba County
Meet Our Rangers: Lori Owenby
This is the fourth in a series of Q&As profiling rangers from the Catawba County Park System, who work to ensure residents and visitors have access to the county’s great outdoors seven days a week (with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). This large-scale system is comprised of four parks: Bakers Mountain Park in Hickory (189 acres on the county’s highest peak); Riverbend Park in Conover (690 acres along the Catawba River); St. Stephens Park in Hickory (9 acres with a dog park on the outskirts of the city); and Mountain Creek Park in Sherrills Ford (606 acres with 18+ miles of hiking/biking trails on the shores of Lake Norman). This month, we’re learning more about Mountain Creek Park Superintendent Lori Owenby, who will be leading a new team of rangers at Mountain Creek Park when it opens to the public on June 18. To learn more about Mountain Creek Park's grand opening celebration, visit the park system's Mountain Creek Park page.
Name: Lori Owenby
Where are you from? Conover, North Carolina
How long have you been a ranger? 15 ½ years
Educational Background: Associate’s Degree in Biology from CVCC
Park currently working at: Mountain Creek Park
How long have you been with Catawba County Parks? I started part-time at Riverbend Park, worked alternate weekends at St. Stephens Park when it opened in 2008, and have been full-time at Riverbend for over 15 years until January of this year when I came to Mountain Creek Park to get it ready for its opening this summer.
Area of expertise/specialization/interest: Nature in general. I love insects and moths, of which I have documented some 882 species. I love plants and lichens; I enjoy going out and finding new species, rare species, anything I can find.
What inspired you to become a ranger?
I was a Girl Scout growing up and I loved it; my mom was my troop leader. I grew up in the woods and I enjoyed everything about it. I remember I saw my first luna moth at Girl Scout camp when I was probably 12 years old. I was fascinated; I was completely hooked. I wanted to learn everything about it.
I have always been interested in nature and birds... I love how everything is connected to each other. That little bluebird that's out here eats the worms and the mosquitoes that are flying around that are a nuisance to everybody else, but they need all that in order to survive so they can feed their babies. I feel very passionate about that interconnection.
What do you most enjoy about being a ranger?
Interacting with patrons and teaching kids about nature. A lot of kids have never even been in the woods. They've never been down to a creek and flipped rocks; they don't know how to pick up a salamander and they are scared of crawdads. I greatly enjoy getting kids out and letting them witness and experience nature, do hands-on stuff and say, "Hey, this isn't that scary." I love seeing that spark in kids and their eyes light up when they realize, "This is kind of fun."
Tell us about your favorite moment, memory or experience as a park ranger.
There have been so many! But one November day stands out from a few years ago… Dwayne and I looked out the window at Riverbend and we saw a moth fly by. Dwayne thought it was a hummingbird based on its shape and flight but I saw it had stripes on it and was sure it was a moth. We ran out. I had the camera in my hand as we went out the door and I snapped a few pictures of it. It was a Titan Sphynx Moth; they're from South America! It must have gotten blown up here with a storm system. It was and still is the first and only record of that moth documented for North Carolina.
The Smithsonian contacted me about it and wanted me to start collecting moths for them. I agreed and still do it to this day sometimes. When I see a moth species that hasn't been recorded for North Carolina, I have little vials and I put them in the freezer. When I send them to the Smithsonian, I pack them in dry ice and send them; they let them thaw out and pin them on display.
What is your favorite feature, aspect, or spot at Mountain Creek Park?
It’s hard to say right now because I haven't seen all the spots in my park yet as it is so new. We've been working mostly around the main office, but I love the playground. It's going to be a huge, huge hit with the kids. They're absolutely going to love it.
My fishing pier is finally finished and it's pretty awesome as it gives a great view of Lake Norman. When the water is down, mud flats are exposed which attract shore birds. It’s going to be a huge draw for bird watchers because there’s nowhere around here that has mud flats that are visible from a public place. We've already gotten really good records of shore birds like American Golden Plover and sightings of Greater Yellowlegs. So I'm excited about the fishing pier. It's going to be a great bird watching destination.
Another group that is going to LOVE being out here at Mountain Creek Park are the mountain bikers! We will have lots of trail mileage dedicated to bike only trails where they can hone their skills and catch some air. I'm excited to see them ride and find out how they like it.
How are parks making living better in Catawba County?
Parks not only provide a place for physical activity for physical health, but a place for mental health as well. Being at the park and listening to the birds, or going down to the water to watch the sunrise in the morning or the sunset in the evening is a very mentally healthy thing to do. Simply taking a walk—walking through the green grass, listening to the birds sing—there's nothing better than that.
I see a difference in people who visit parks regularly. At Riverbend, I would see people start coming to the park and you could tell that they were stressed out. Then the more you saw them, you could see how much they’d loosened up. And they'll even tell us, "Thank you so much for having these trails." Especially during COVID, people were so grateful to have somewhere to go for their mental health. We were where they went. We were who they turned to. Then and now, our parks are a great place to destress and recharge mentally.