As a park ranger with Eno River State Park for 13 years, Christopher Greiner walked around the park on his last day, a sunny and breezy fall morning, receiving handshakes and congratulations from friends he has made during his time at the park.
Retiring on Oct. 31, it was almost 13 years to the day since he began on Nov. 1, 2003 as Park Ranger II at Eno River State Park assigned to oversee Occoneechee Mountain.
Greiner grew up in Southern California, when the air pollution was “at its worst,” creating a negative view of big cities and suburbia, and spurring him towards conservation.
“I just hated cities and I hated air pollution,” he said. “I just saw everything being cut down and all the farmland covered with houses, so I did everything I could to get out of there.”
When he began attending college, Greiner said he took many classes in botany, biology, ecology, gained a 2-year degree, and then transferred into two more schools, obtaining a certificate of proficiency in conservation from Cal Poly in Santa Lucia Obispo before settling in for his last year at the University of California-Chico, graduating in 1981 with a degree in geography.
During his time in college, he was able to work three seasons for the natural parks, and he said that is really what began his journey and strengthened his passions.
Greiner worked at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico and then at the Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas.
“[Big Thicket] was harder because coming from California going to east Texas, it is very hot, humid and swampy,” he said. “But the Big Thicket was amazing because it had the most amazing botany in the United States. The lead natural resource manager left Yosemite to go there, and people were like, ‘He’s crazy!’ But from a diversity of wildflowers and trees stand point, that is why he was there.
His next and last seasonal job was at Sequoia National Park in California.
“That was just wonderful because I got to see the giant sequoias and I kind of was surprised, I thought they’d be everywhere but sequoias are just in the shaded area where there’s the most runoff from snow,” he said. “The reason they grow so big there, is there’s this perfect climate, lots of snowpack and so all summer long, it’s getting fed by melting snow and underground water and lots of sunshine because very little rain other than just localized thunderstorms, they’re amazing, and you look up and the first branch is as big as [a tree trunk here].”
After graduation, and over time, family eventually brought Greiner to the east coast. He worked as a state park ranger and constable in South Carolina for five years and then moved to North Carolina, first at Falls Lake State Recreation Area and then Pilot Mountain State Park, and finally to Eno River State Park.
Overall, Greiner has been a groundskeeper and park ranger for 34 years.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area opened in 1999, with the purpose to protect certain unique features, and in this case, to protect land originally called a monadnock, which is a mountain or a hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding area or plain.
Greiner’s expertise and love of the outdoors showed as he identified most trees on the trails, including white oak, red oak, gum, sassafras, loblolly pine trees and more.
Through his time at Occoneechee Mountain, he has kept the park maintenance and trails inviting by much of his own handiwork- lining the trails with rocks, spreading gravel, helping parking area safety measures and more.
Greiner has high praises for the area, but also voiced concerns for the future and needs the park has that have gone unanswered. Based on traffic camera data, last year the park had 72,000 visitors, continuing a steady increase over the past couple of years.
With that, Greiner voiced the need for more facilities and land, including running water, a restroom and more parking space. Understanding the undertaking behind these facilities such as a well and wastewater treatment, he stands by its importance.
“This area is so small, we need more facilities and we need some more land too,” he said. “But I think it’s pretty amazing that we have three miles of trail in 189 acres.”
“I’m concerned about the state parks because on one hand it’s good to have more and more visitors, but I think it’s getting to a point where it’s a cost,” he said. “The resource is getting worn or loved to death, and I remember 30 or more years ago the natural parks talking about that.”
Despite many of those concerns, Greiner, leaves with a fond view of his time at Occoneechee and says he values the relationships he has formed through his time as the ranger.
“What is really nice about this park is not just because things that I’ve thought of or I’ve done, but I’ve had literally hundreds of volunteers in the 13 years and that’s probably the most satisfying,” he said.
Greiner plans to come back and volunteer after taking some time off, enjoying his retirement.