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Marlboro resident completes tour of national parks

By Peter Elacqua
Staff Writer

A 30-year quest to visit every national park in the United States came to a conclusion in New Jersey in the waning days of 2016 for Dr. Paul Kovalski of Marlboro.

Kovalski achieved his goal by visiting his 413th and final national park, the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson, on Dec. 23, 2016.

“I planned to finish in the Garden State to bring recognition to New Jersey’s contribution to the National Park System,” he said. “For me, it was coming back home after thousands of miles of adventure.”

Kovalski, a dentist, is a former member of the Marlboro Township Council. He is a member of the Marlboro Historic Commission and the founder of Marlboro’s Dinosaur Day. He has coordinated Dinosaur Day activities for 15 years.

In January, Kovalski was honored at a council meeting by Mayor Jonathan Hornik and council members Jeff Cantor, Randi Marder, Carol Mazzola, Scott Metzger and Michael Scalea for his accomplishment and his dedication to the township.

“Dr. Kovalski has done a terrific job for Marlboro, both when he served as a councilman and thereafter,” Hornik said. “A lot of people get elected to office, serve, and when they leave office they leave their public service or their community service and that is when this man began to serve.

“It is so important to educate and enrich and let our kids know about how special this area really is both from its history and where we are today and ‘Dr. Dinosaur’ does that not only from the shows he puts on at our Dinosaur Day, but in the programs that he makes sure get implemented,” the mayor said.

“I have always had an interest in nature, history, culture and exploring,” Kovalski said. “This was encouraged by my parents who took our family to parks as our means would allow. My mom recently shared a picture of me at about 7 years old at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Fla., a Spanish fortification started in 1672.

“For the last 30 years my travels became more serious and I started a quest to visit every national park site. These include national parks, historic sites, recreation areas, battlefields, scenic rivers, preserves and all units of the park system,” he said.

Yellowstone was the nation’s first official park, established in 1872. At that time national parks could only be created by an act of Congress.

In 1906, the Antiquities Act gave the President the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features.

On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established.

The act states that “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations … by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

“From the start, I knew that visiting every park site would not be easy,” Kovalski said. “This exciting, challenging and sometimes difficult journey proved that getting there is sometimes half the fun. Many destinations are open only in a particular season, are very remote and may take many months to prepare.”

Kovalski recounted some of the trips he took to America’s national parks with his family.

“We experienced many unique family trips to our parks: snorkeling in a Kelp-filled cove in Channel Islands National Park (California), bypassing a rather large Red Diamond rattlesnake at Joshua Tree (California), walking between the majestic giants at Sequoia and Redwood parks (California), discovering orchids and insect-eating plants in the New Jersey Pinelands, watching monarch butterflies and warblers migrate through Sandy Hook, and the list goes on,” Kovalski said.

Three years ago, Kovalski started volunteering at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

“This is a beautiful park in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, straddling the Delaware River,” he said. “There are waterfalls, historic sites, miles of hiking, miles of river to canoe, kayak and raft, picnic areas and beautiful vistas.

“I spend time in the visitors center in interpretation, rove the trails and river, help out on ranger-led programs and strive to give our visitors a special park experience.

“I would recommend for anyone to ‘find their park’ and think about volunteering. I spent over 200 enjoyable hours last year and was honored to be given an award for Volunteer of the Year,” Kovalski said.

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