Park manager wants to stay course at Moraine, McConnell's Mill
Dustin Drew, 32, was named manager of Moraine and McConnell's Mill State parks in August.
The native of Hastings, got his start with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at Prince Gallitzen State Park in Cambria County and most recently served as manager of the Lackawanna State Park Complex in Lackawanna County.
The Trib caught up with the 15-year veteran of the state parks department to talk about his first six months overseeing a pair of parks enjoyed by more than 1.3 million visitors per year and what he has in store for the future.
Q: Did you always plan to work in park management?
A: No, not necessarily. I went through most of college knowing I wanted to be involved in some type of conservation practice or field. I started working for state parks in high school as a lifeguard at Prince Gallitzen, so that's sort of how I got introduced. I got to know the managers and trainers, and it was something that was always in the back of my head, but I really didn't have a definite goal until probably later in college.
Q: Were you always an outdoors person?
A: I would say just growing up in a small, rural town I spent a lot of time outdoors and was always involved in outdoor activities. I wouldn't consider myself a specialist or survivalist, but I certainly appreciate and enjoy the outdoors.
Q: What have the first few months on the job been like? Any challenges or areas you wanted to address right off the bat?
A: I spent a lot of time just sort of getting to know the parks and the staff. There are a lot of interest groups, user groups and stakeholders involved — probably more so than I've seen elsewhere — who appreciate and love both Moraine and McConnell's Mill. So getting to know them and building relationships with them has been important and something I've dedicated a fair amount of time to. Each park is unique unto itself and a little gem unto itself so you have to get to know the intricacies of the resources.
Q: Was there anything in particular that the different user groups expressed strong feelings about in terms of what should change or what should stay the same?
A: There's such a diverse offering between the two parks as far as recreational activities. With the many user groups, each one has their own thing, their own interests they focus on, but from what I've found is they all appreciate the whole realm and vastness of the two parks and everything associated with them. I can't say any specific requests have come in, no. I made it pretty clear when I came in with the staff and the different groups that I'm not looking to make any big changes or anything like that. I have a lot of respect for the past managers. They set a good course and an appropriate course, so it really wasn't a matter of me coming in and starting things anew. I just wanted to keep us in the moving in the right direction.
Q: What are some of the projects you've targeted initially?
A: The biggest one is at the Pleasant Valley Beach area on the South Shore (at Moraine), right in the main day use area. There are contractors replacing the sewer lines, and that's going to help eliminate infiltration from rain water and such that we don't need to be treating. It will help the plant run more efficiently. A lot of the infrastructure is original, so it's going on 40 years and showing signs of age. Anything we can do on a larger scale like this will go a long way to keeping the infrastructure in good shape. We're also going to continue work at the Lakeview Beach on the North Shore. We're doing that in-house, fixing up the changing house, shower house and facilities there.
Q: Have the parks seen a lot of winter use with the cold weather and snow we've had recently?
A: There's been a lot of ice fishing, which everyone says is pretty common when the ice is suitable. Even on the coldest days there have been folks out there. McConnell's Mill still has good usage with the hiking trails over there. You certainly need to use a lot more caution when that rocky terrain becomes even more slippery with the ice and snow. We're starting to see cross-country skiing pick up as well as some snowmobiling. But it's definitely been great to see people out year-round.