By Keith Gushard
Dan Bickel has come full-circle with Pymatuning State Park.
It was 17 years ago that Bickel got his start at Pymatuning State Park in environmental education after graduating from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania with a degree in park management and recreational studies. He has since become park operations manager for the state park, replacing long-time manager Pete Houghton, who retired, in April.
“This was my first full-time job,” Bickel said. “He (Houghton) hired me. I was the environmental education specialist for the park, so I did a lot of school group programs.”
Bickel moved into the state’s park manager trainee program next and worked his way up in various positions with the state park system, spending the past four as manager at Moraine State Park in Butler County before returning to Pymatuning.
“There’s about 21,000 acres here and I’m pretty excited,” Bickel said. “Pete had done a lot of nice projects over the years, making it more handicapped-accessible and improving the different facilities, but there are a lot of things on the slate to be done.”
Among them is an $8.8 million project to rehabilitate the dam at Pymatuning, which will be paid for through a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant. The state DCNR, which oversees the park system, announced the grant earlier this year. It’s the first major rehabilitation of the dam since it was built in the 1930s.
“The design is about 60 percent done,” Bickel said, noting work is expected to begin in mid-summer 2014 and be completed the following summer.
“It’s the largest project I’ve ever worked on in my career and the lake certainly is important to the local economy,” he said. “It’s critical to maintain the lake level.”
Another project already started is the addition of about 16 full-hookup camping sites at the Jamestown Campground. Those sites will offer sewage, water and electric service at a cost of between $30,000 to $40,000.
“People want full-hookups,” Bickel said. “As a park manager, you always want to listen to the park users.”
Bickel acknowledges the park’s Tuttle Campground remains closed while improvements are being made to the park’s Jamestown and Linesville camping areas. But to get Tuttle to reopen would require an estimated $1.4 million capital project with work to upgrade its water system, bathhouses and paving, he said.
“We’d like to have it open again, but Pennsylvania is backlogged with capital projects,” Bickel said.
Bickel said he hopes to work closely with local groups who sponsor events at the park as well as the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau to help promote its use.
“It’s not an underutilized facility,” he said. “But we want to make it the park that people want it to be.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.