02/02/11 — New face at the Cliffs

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New face at the Cliffs

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 2, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dan Schewlakow is the new park superintendent at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. He says he is excited about combining his loves of the outdoors and education at such a good park.

The first time Daniel Schewlakow had a run-in with a wild animal at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park was a little frightening. He heard something in a trash can making noise, but had no idea what it could be.

"I opened it up and a possum was staring at me," he recalled. "I jumped back a foot or two and was startled. I just sat the trash can down and let him wander out on his own.

"It's something you definitely don't expect to see in a trash can."

Schewlakow is no stranger to wildlife encounters. The 30-year-old ranger has taken over as the new park superintendent at the Cliffs but has had experience in the wild since he was a boy.

Growing up in rural New Jersey, he help on the family farm and spent a lot of time outdoors.

"I didn't spend too much time inside," he said.

While attending college in New Jersey, Schewlakow did seasonal work with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Service. He was also a substitute teacher, with a background in biology and education.

"I liked the education aspect, but I also really enjoyed the outdoors aspect," he said.

He said there came no particular point in time when he decided he wanted to be a park ranger, it was a gradual realization that he wanted to spend most of his time outdoors.

"I did the substitute teaching and worked indoors," he said. "I enjoyed it, but I missed the outdoor aspect."

Being a park ranger let him combine the two fields, the outdoors and education.

"It is the best of both worlds," he said.

He applied for park ranger positions right out of college, but ended up working as an environmental field sampling technician for a year. Then he went into environmental consultant work.

His first job in the park ranger field was as a general utility worker at William B. Umstead State Park, then as a park ranger.

He transferred to Lake Norman State Park, then back to William B. Umstead State Park to take a supervisory position.

The move to the Cliffs brings new challenges. And Schewlakow said he looks forward to learning more about the park and what it has to offer.

"Every day here is different, which is one of the reasons I wanted to be a park ranger. I like doing different things all the time," he said.

Schewlakow enjoys the variety of work that comes with the job of park superintendent.

"I think it's amazing that my office is outside," he said. "There's no better job in the world to me."

At the Cliffs, duties are mainly supervisory, making sure the park runs properly and the rangers do the jobs that need to be done.

"I'm the person who makes the decisions for the park," Schewlakow said. "But I also get to do a lot of educational programs out in the park. And I get to hike the trails to do resource management."

That includes looking after the park's animal inhabitants, surveying to find out what the park has to offer and could offer, and removing any safety hazards to both animals and human visitors.

He even gets to help with prescribed fires, which is a controlled burn at the park. It helps the natural process of nature.

He said he also plans on coming up with more programs for park visitors.

"Any time I get a chance to show something new to someone and spark an interest in the outdoors, that's why I do the job."

Schewlakow saw that a lot while at William B. Umstead State Park.

"A lot of the kids that came there had never been out in the woods," he said. "When I got to show them an animal, they got so excited, and that's the only thing they could talk about the rest of the day."

What is natural to Schewlakow is sometimes amazing to people who seldom venture into the outdoors.

He is still discovering the park for himself, but wants to find out what visitors to the Cliffs want.

"And hopefully we can improve some of the trails in the park," he said, noting that the park is about to open its new visitor's center.

Schewlakow would also like to have more school groups come out to the park for special programs and crafts.

"We're planning on updating our general master plan for the park, too," he said. "It talks about what we'd like to improve at the park during the next five years, as far as adding new trails and improving different areas."

Schewlakow sees Cliffs of the Neuse as a big asset to Wayne County. It gives residents, and visitors, a unique look at the natural world that has, for the most part, disappeared from this area.

"It's close, but you don't hear the hustle and bustle of the city out here," Schewlakow said. "It's got a lot of potential as a park."