Behind the Parks: Meet Katie at Scioto Audubon

Katie Lofton
Maintenance Technician, Scioto Audubon Metro Park

Hometown and background

I was born in Millersport, a small village about 40 minutes’ drive east of Columbus. It’s situated on the western end of Buckeye Lake and has a population of under a thousand. My dad works as an engineer in the electrical industry and we moved quite often as a family to be near the power plants my dad needed to work at. We moved to Coshocton when I was around a year old, later on moving back to Millersport before I started preschool. However, at the end of my freshman year of high school, we moved again, to Harrison, near Cincinnati.

In 2015, I started at The University of Toledo, majoring in Environmental Sciences. While at the university, I worked for the campus recycling program, which had a great flexible schedule, but I was no more than a glorified trashman. By the summer after my freshman year, my family had moved to Zanesville, but there weren’t many opportunities for seasonal environmental jobs in the area. So, I looked at some of the park systems around Ohio and discovered that the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks system were nearby, hiring, and also paying a dollar an hour more for seasonals than Toledo, Cleveland, and Cincinnati Metro Parks. At the time, I didn’t know much about the city and had never been to any of the parks, but after some research, I decided Blacklick Woods was my best option, being an hour’s drive from my parents’ house in Zanesville.

In both 2016 and 2017 I worked at Blacklick Woods as a seasonal maintenance technician, from May through August. I had to end my seasons slightly early to get back to Toledo for the start of band camp, as I was a member of UT’s Rocket Marching Band. I play clarinet, and all four years at UT I participated in the band, including out-of-state bowl games three of my four seasons, and a MAC Championship game in 2017 at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions (which we won)! Nowadays, I am still able to march every other year as part of our Alumni Band event, when past members from all years are invited to perform with the current UT band at Homecoming.

Katie with her clarinet, flanked by her mom and dad, at a Harrison High School football game.

For my 2018 summer break, I again worked at Metro Parks, but this time as the South-End Coordinator for the CSI program. This program employs Columbus City Schools seniors and gives them a taste for working at Metro Parks, while also teaching valuable work ethics and life skills.

Katie in a canoe with Tony Jackson, when both of them worked as CSI Coordinators.

I graduated from the University of Toledo in May 2019. By then, my mom was living in Newark, which cut my commute to Columbus in half. I applied for another summer job with Metro Parks, and it was the best job I have ever had! I was employed as a Summer Camp Counselor where I got to do games and crafts with the kids every day, and go fishing and creeking every week. I don’t think I have ever eaten as many hot dogs in my life as I did that summer. My dad was always baffled that I had a job where I was paid to have fun every day! The camp I was stationed at most of that summer was at Blendon Woods, with a co-counselor and a head counselor.

Katie with friends at her graduation ceremony from the University of Toledo in 2019, and with her friend Christina at alumni band homecoming later that same year.

When the summer camp season ended, I looked for permanent work and I was taken on as a part-time ranger at Blacklick Woods. Mostly, I worked weekends. During this time, I also worked mornings as a part-time sales specialist at the REI Easton store, and worked weekday evenings with After-School All Stars, where I taught interdisciplinary lessons and activities for kids whose parents weren’t able to pick them up until later in the evening. I usually worked from 3 to 7:30pm at an elementary school near the airport, and had between five and 20 kids to care for each evening.

In March of 2020, the school programs were forced to end early due to Covid. Also, REI closed its stores until July. Fortunately, Metro Parks remained open and I continued to work at Blacklick Woods after a brief hiatus. I was able to pick up more hours than previously, which gave me something productive to do with all my new-found free time. Once the world started opening back up, I was keen to try and get a full-time position, and I applied for nearly all openings I found. Finally, in April 2021, I was promoted to my present position, full-time maintenance technician at Scioto Audubon Metro Park. Presently, I continue to work between five and 15 hours per week at REI. I love the staff and management at my store, and am celebrating five years in August! I moved into my own apartment in December 2022 on the southeast edge of the outerbelt, only about a 15-minute drive from Scioto Audubon.

Katie on the climbing wall at Scioto Audubon, and on the water tower, with the wall in the background.
Katie on the climbing wall at Scioto Audubon, and on the water tower, with the wall in the background.

What I do at Metro Parks and what I love about my job

I’ve learned a lot from working with very experienced techs at Blacklick Woods, Scioto Audubon, and other parks that I help out at from time to time. I learn by trying a task and asking questions if I get stuck. Sometimes, I look up how-to videos online to help me complete projects efficiently, especially for vehicles that my coworkers haven’t worked on before. It’s led me to develop high-quality skills of my own, which I’m able to put to good use on projects. Those projects include the maintenance and repair of the park vehicles and equipment. I tend to enjoy mechanical work, as I was often in the garage with my dad growing up. At Scioto Audubon, we have more vehicles and equipment than most parks, considering we also manage the Greenway Trails from here. I typically order many of the parts we need to service the different types of vehicles, especially tires, which we go through often with all the driving we do on the trails.

Katie working to fix some damage on the underside of a Ranger truck.

I also especially enjoy learning electrical work and about the best native plants to use as replacements after we’ve cleared sections of honeysuckle on our trails. Some of the trees we have planted recently are pawpaws, red buds and sycamores for our lower Multi-Use Trail.

Although I enjoy all of that work, my favorite days are when I get to work events at Scioto Audubon and at other parks, such as Scioto Fest, Fall Fest, Winter Hikes, and Earth Day, where we spend the day cleaning up the park and planting trees. I enjoy helping other Metro Parks staff on promotional events, tabling at schools or museums to talk about our parks, but also to hear fascinating stories that our visitors share about their experiences at Metro Parks. I also offer to work on Resource Management’s strike teams, which typically include the removal of invasive plants and prescribed burns of prairie areas.

Katie in a pose of triumph after brush-hogging a field at Great Southern Metro Park.

I especially enjoy being able to drive the Metro Parks tram to take visitors on park tours, presenting on the history of the park and the land on which it now stands, a section of the Whittier Peninsula. My manager, Kevin, and I were only trained early last year, but were able to get the tram a few times throughout the year for programs. I’ve spoken with my park managers about the possibility of having the tram here at Scioto Audubon more for this year, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to develop new programs for our visitors here.

My favorite Metro Parks activity

If I go to a Metro Park on a day off, I like to play a round of disc golf at Blendon Woods or Glacier Ridge (in warm weather!) When I was at Blacklick Woods, I enjoyed fishing at Ashton Pond, which is relaxing and quiet. Recently, my manager DJ took me on the via ferrata at Quarry Trails to get me some training on the course. That was really exciting, and I’m hoping to help out with future via ferrata programs.

My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction…

This past year, the GIAC (Grange Insurance Audubon Center), which is based within Scioto Audubon Metro Park, organized a special event with an organization called “A Kid Again.” This is a children’s charity that works with families that have kids with life-threatening conditions. On the day of the event, or the Adventure, as the charity likes to call their programs, Kevin and I were asked to provide tram tours for the families. It was so rewarding! The kids were all ages, from infants to older teenagers.

Most of the families had never been to our park before, and none of them had ever ridden our tram! The visitors were so excited as I discussed the history of the park while pointing out the ducks and waterfowl on the river, and the flowers and grasses in our prairies. On one of the tram tours that day, midway through, Kevin whispered to me to tell the group that the water tower was filled with chocolate milk. When I asked the group what they thought was in the structure, they threw out some wild guesses. When I announced “Chocolate milk!” one of the adults in the group fell for it. The whole tram group had a good laugh after I revealed the tower is actually empty. It was definitely a fun memory I will remember for a long time. We repeated the “chocolate milk” joke for the rest of the tram tours that day, and it proved to be a great ice-breaker that got everyone on the tour more involved and interested in the things we were about to see.

Was Katie “really” joking when she said the water tower at Scioto Audubon was filled with chocolate milk, or was her subsequent denial just an effort to preserve the secret? Rumor has it that chocolate-milk-loving Pixies refill the water tower with their favorite non-alcoholic tipple on moonless nights, just after the sun goes down. Photo Liz Christian

If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…

I would love to take the AMTRAK Classic Canada Coast to Coast vacation. It’s an 18-day train ride starting in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It goes through major cities Montreal and Toronto, with a full day at Niagara Falls before heading out through the incredible scenery of the Canadian Plains and Rocky Mountains. The tour comes to a close in the beautiful city of Vancouver. I enjoy road trips, but doing it by train would be fabulous, having the ability to get up and walk around whenever you need to, and eat and drink in comfort while still getting to see the wonderful scenery. I’ve taken a few trips to eastern Canada and have loved it there, but seeing the mountains and the west coast is definitely on my bucket list.

I would also love to repeat some of the trips I made through my university, if I ever get the money and the time to do them again. My sophomore year, I went to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. It was part of a marine biology course, and my peers and I all stayed in a rental house and spent the week snorkeling and studying the ecology of the seas and its marine life.

Katie in the Galápagos Islands. Although it looks like she has a foot on the giant tortoise, in fact her foot is on a rock about three metres behind the tortoise.

The next year I went to the Galápagos Islands, about a thousand kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. I’d love to convince my friends to go back there with me! The wildlife there is amazing, including lots of giant tortoises. One of the stand-out moments of that trip was snorkeling into a cave of nurse sharks. These are very slow-moving, bottom-dwelling sharks, but they can get to be as big as 14-feet long. Each of us had the opportunity to dive with our guide into the cave where they were sleeping and observe for as long as we could hold our breath. There were about 20 sharks and I got to within about 20 feet of them.

Katie in a mountainous area in Ecuador.

At the end of that year, I went back to Ecuador but for a two-week trip exploring the mainland. We spent a lot of time hiking in volcanic areas, but we also spent time at the beach and in the snowy mountains. Ecuador is a beautiful country! I would move to Cuenca if given the chance.

Fun facts about me and my family

1. Music and Musical Theater! Music is a big part of my life. As well as playing in marching bands for 10 years in school, I also love to be involved in musical theater. A couple of years ago, I participated in a couple of big shows put on by the Millersport Community Theatre. I played an apostle in Jesus Christ Superstar, which was mostly a choral part, although I did sing a couple of solo phrases. The same year, I was backstage for the first time as the assistant stage manager for MCT’s production of Shrek, The Musical. Last year, I was given the opportunity to be a spotlight operator for a performance here in Columbus, at the Lincoln Theatre.

Katie sings a solo part in Jesus Christ Superstar at a Millersport Community Theater production, and performing in a show choir competition during her senior year at High School.

Growing up, I was a member of my school’s show choir, and continued to sing at Toledo in their women’s chorus. We sang all kinds of repertoire, including classical, religious, pop and rock. One year, we had to memorize an entire Catholic mass piece which was completely in Latin!

I have lots of friends in community theater around Columbus, and I like to catch their performances as often as I can. This month I’ll be seeing The Who’s Tommy, in a production in Grove City. Recently, two friends were in a production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on the animated Disney movie. I also recently saw the Short North Stage’s production of Kinky Boots, which is about a shoe factory that makes outrageous shoes for drag queens. It was a lot of fun, but it is set in England, so the cast had to put on false British accents, which weren’t always the best!

2. Classic Cars! My dad has always loved fixing, renovating and rebuilding cars. He passed that fascination on to me, although my older brother Nick, who is now a pharmacist, never showed any interest in it. My dad and grandfather took me to car shows all the time growing up, and we still go to many.

Katie with her grandad at The Pontiac Nationals car show in 2004.

Our favorite car show is the annual Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. It’s held at the Summit Motorsports Park and includes drag races, car shows, vendor booths, and a swap meet, where avid tinkerers can exchange parts that might be hard to find. I’ve been trying to get my dad to show one of his cars at this show. A good few years ago he built a 1965 Pontiac Catalina from the ground up. He bought a chassis, and then built the body work and engine from individual parts. It was a fabulous car and I was so sad when he sold it.

My dad holds a model of his Pontiac Catalina that I made for him, alongside the car itself.

But more recently he purchased a 1971 Pontiac GTO. I’m hoping we can get it to the showcase at Pontiac Nationals this July. He had the vehicle shipped to him from California from another collector, and has spent a decent amount of time personalizing it and rebuilding the entire engine. Every time I visit him he gives me a lesson on a different section of the engine. A lot of it goes over my head, but I enjoy learning about the mechanics of a car engine.

My dad’s restored 1971 Pontiac GTO.

3. Road trips and family vacations! I love long road trips. Earlier this year, one of my friends moved from Ohio to Washington state, to live on the ID/WA border at the University of Idaho. She and her boyfriend packed up all their belongings in their two cars and a U-Haul trailer and drove together in that, while I drove her car (filled with boxes) on a three-day trek, seeing many attractions on the way, and flying back to Ohio.

My favorite family tradition is our annual family vacation in Lake City, Michigan. We have been staying there in the same cabin on Lake Missaukee every year since my brother Nick was born, who is about two years older than me. In addition to my dad, my brother, and their wives, my grandparents and cousins on my dad’s side join us and we spend the week water skiing and tubing with our boat.

Katie and her dad on Lake Missaukee in July 2021.

4. A new addition to the family! I recently got a beautiful all-black kitten and I named her Zero, after the little ghost dog from the Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas. When I was growing up we had a family dog, but I have always loved cats, and Zero is proving to be a perfect companion for me in my new apartment. She’s only about six months old and is still very little, but she’s super cuddly and has a fun personality.

Katie and her kitten, Zero.

My favorite food and dessert

I love to eat! I can easily say what my favorite food experience has been: A couple of years ago, while vacationing in Maine, I had a lobster roll, which was just freshly-caught lobster with butter and some other toppings on a hoagie roll. It was the freshest, tastiest, most scrumptious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I think about it all the time!

Katie with the infamous and utterly scrumptious lobster roll in Maine!

However, I know I can’t recreate that experience here in Ohio. I’d say that my favorite go-to meal is chicken adobo, a traditional Filipino dish served with rice. A close friend’s mom used to make it for me often in high school and taught me the recipe. I’ve made it many times. Sometimes I substitute tofu for chicken, to make it for a vegetarian audience. It is a super easy recipe that comes out perfectly every time! For dessert, I love cheesecake, especially topped with cherries.

My favorite entertainment

I love going to concerts. In 2022, I went to about 17. Last year, I nearly doubled that, going to about 30 concerts, mostly alternative pop and rock. This month, I’m going to a concert for a local band, Columbus Soul and Salvage. They mostly do covers of songs from the 1950s. It would be the perfect music to listen to on a boat off the Florida coast! This past year, I went to more out of state shows than usual. My mom, who also loves concerts, went with me to Pennsylvania to see one of our favorite bands, Foreigner, who play classic rock. I also saw them in 2022 when they played at the Ohio State Fair! My mom and I also went to a concert for my birthday in November, to see Eric Hutchinson, who we have seen multiple times together. My favorite show I saw all year was easily The Japanese House at the stunning Majestic Theatre in Detroit. My friend and I had a blast and the entire show was amazing.

I also have a number of friends who play in their own bands. One of them is made up entirely of friends I met in the UT Rocket Marching Band, called the Ice Cream Militia. Their genre is closest to ska, which is a kind of Caribbean rock. Although they perform mostly around Toledo and southern Michigan, they played a concert here in Columbus a few years ago, and I got to introduce a lot of my local friends to their music. They play with two guitars and drums, and are backed by a brass quartet of a tuba, trombone, and two trumpets.

I also like to listen to music at home. Recently, I bought a second-hand Technics stereo system. It’s great for when I’m cooking in the kitchen, cleaning my room, or entertaining friends. It includes a 111-CD changer, which is surprisingly only about half the CDs I actually own! Additionally, the system has a great amplifier, double tape deck and vinyl turntable. At home, I especially enjoy listening to classic rock like REO Speedwagon, Rush, and Huey Lewis and the News.

If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…

I love to be able to make the parks better for our visitors to enjoy, and to hear their stories about why they love the parks, which we work so hard in every day.

Katie Lofton was talking to Communications Coordinator, Virginia Gordon

What Scioto Audubon Park Manager Daniel White says about Katie

“Katie is a delight to work with! She likes to stay involved and keep busy with tons of projects ranging from park maintenance to public programming, tram rides and volunteer group coordination! Katie’s value goes far beyond her technical skills. She always has something fun going on at work and her life outside of Metro Parks (ask her about what concert she is going to!) She is a positive member of the staff and is always willing to offer a helping hand, regardless of the task.”

4 thoughts on “Behind the Parks: Meet Katie at Scioto Audubon

  1. This is a great story about a great gal my granddaughter Katie.Ask her about her very hot trip to Texas years ago. Proud grandparents grammy&pap

  2. It’s great to hear all the fun aspects of you, and how you are living into your life! We are all lucky to have you at Metro Parks!!
    I hike or bike them all!!

  3. I love reading these Behind The Parks segments spotlighting Metro Parks’ employees! I especially like reading about the perseverance, dedication, and enthusiasm the staff have in pursuit of their blossoming career with an outstanding park district system. Best of luck Katie, great things lie ahead. Keep up the great work Metro Parks!

  4. What a wonderful story about a very positive young lady. Glad to hear a positive story for once! Congratulations Katie and here is to success in all of your lifetime endeavors.

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