My Catawba County
Meet Our Rangers: Dwayne Martin
This is the second in series of Q&As profiling rangers from the Catawba County Park System, which is comprised of Bakers Mountain in Hickory, Riverbend in Conover, St. Stephens in Hickory, and the soon-to-be-opened Mountain Creek in Sherrills Ford. This month, we’re learning more about Riverbend Park Superintendent Dwayne Martin, who has served as a ranger at Riverbend for 18 years.
Name: Dwayne Martin
Where are you from? I was raised 2 miles from Riverbend Park here in northern Catawba County
How long have you been a ranger? Ranger for 17.5 years and Park Superintendent for 6 months
Educational Background: Studied Biology at CVCC
Park currently working at: Riverbend Park and St. Stephens Park
How long have you been at Riverbend Park? 18 years
Area of expertise/specialization/interest: Birds, plants and weather
What inspired you to become a ranger?
My love of nature. I have been interested in plants, birds, and animals since I was a kid. My love for hummingbirds in particular started when my dad bought me a hummingbird feeder when I was 12 years old. I would sit and watch them for hours. Any time it snowed or when I had free time, I would hang out a bird feeder and just watch birds for hours.
What do you most enjoy about being a ranger?
Introducing folks to nature right here in Catawba County. Seeing their faces light up when they learn something about nature that they didn’t know. Being able to point up and show someone a bald eagle for the first time or a hummingbird up close. Showing them how all of nature is related, be it plants or animals. Hopefully helping them enjoy their time outside in our parks, helping them have a special experience in nature and teaching them something new.
Tell us about your favorite moment, memory or experience as a park ranger.
There are a lot to choose from but one of my favorite things is when we do the annual hummingbird banding on the first two Saturdays in August here at Riverbend Park. I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to seeing the hummingbirds up close. A lot of times, little kids get to release them and the looks on their faces are so fun; it’s rewarding to create that experience for them.
It’s also rewarding to have the chance to learn more about hummingbirds. The banding process involves putting a little metal band around the bird’s leg which has a specific number that's unique to that one particular bird. The information gets sent to the banding lab in Maryland, and can be accessed when the bird is recaptured to find out where it was banded and note where it traveled to. This information is then used to track the migration, growth and life span of the hummingbird species.
A few years ago, one hummingbird I banded here was recaptured 12 days later in Rockport, Texas. It was the first ruby-throated hummingbird ever banded in North Carolina to be recaptured in another state. And it helped us confirm a fact about the hummingbirds’ migration patterns. You see, we know that hummingbirds come across the Gulf of Mexico each spring; we know that for a fact. But on their fall migration, we always suspected that a lot of them, instead of going across the Gulf of Mexico, go around it. The fact that that bird was recaptured in Rockport, Texas, almost halfway around the Gulf of Mexico, helped prove that theory: that hummingbirds are going around the Gulf instead of going across it.
What is your favorite feature, aspect, or spot at Riverbend Park?
That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child! But if I had to pick just one spot, it would probably be the area around the hawk watch site on the Bean property. I spend a lot of time there each fall counting migrating raptors. The Bean tract was added to Riverbend in 2017, adding 209 acres to the park property. It had been a working farm for 135 years. We maintain it as a grassland, which is unique in Catawba County on public land. I'm there almost every day from mid-August all the way through the first week of October. And it’s a beautiful place to be; the views from there are fantastic. On clear days from the hawk watch area you can see the Brushy Mountain chain that runs along the border of Alexander and Wilkes Counties, and from one particular corner, you can even view the iconic Grandfather Mountain ridgeline.
How are parks making living better in Catawba County?
Our parks give folks in the area a chance to get into the outdoors and learn more about nature. The 690 acres here at Riverbend Park provide a great place to take a walk and get back to nature, for recreation, exercise and learning. This is especially important for kids, as schools don't offer field trips as much as they used to, especially to places like this. If they enjoy nature, they're going to be more apt to try to save it. So it's a way of looking out for the future.