2009-05-21 / Local & State

Ranger Sleighter Honored For Service At Gap

Proposed budget cuts could result in little or no improvements at Cowans Gap
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

Cowans Gap State Park ranger James Sleighter (center) received the 2008 DCNR Park Ranger Award last Thursday for his efforts in law enforcement, community relations and professionalism. On hand for the special presentation were DCNR official Gary Smith (left) and park manager Steve Behe (right). Cowans Gap State Park ranger James Sleighter (center) received the 2008 DCNR Park Ranger Award last Thursday for his efforts in law enforcement, community relations and professionalism. On hand for the special presentation were DCNR official Gary Smith (left) and park manager Steve Behe (right). A park ranger at Cowans Gap State Park received statewide recognition last Thursday evening for his service and actions during the course of 2008 that included helping rescue a struggling swimmer, ensuring general public safety and improving relations with the community.

In presenting the 2008 Park Ranger Award to ranger James Sleighter, DCNR's Bureau of State Parks official Gary Smith pointed out the ranger often arrives early to his shift at Cowans Gap State Park and in general sets a "fine example" for the park's ranger staff through his approach and appearance.

Sleighter, according to Smith, possesses the capability of being able to switch duties quickly, enabling him to deal with a variety of issues ranging from intense law enforcement to helping find the parents of a lost child. "His professional manner is also evident as he conducts park programs to local Scout groups and community organizations,"said Smith.

Smith stated along with park manager Steve Behe, Sleighter has improved park forms dealing with signage as well as policies on harvesting firewood and beach regulations.

"In addition, ranger Sleighter has made an outstanding effort to relate new pet policies to park patrons. His work to maintain public safety during the transition to open swim has ensured a successful swimming season," said Smith. "On June 7, 2008, an intoxicated individual was struggling to swim beyond the buoy lines. His quick action to coordinate a rescue effort with other rangers helped to save the man's life, preventing a dangerous situation from becoming a tragedy."

In accepting the special award, Sleighter thanked the entire park staff for their ongoing assistance in ensuring visitors have both a safe and fun visit at the Gap. Staffing at the state park consists of seven salaried staff and 13 seasonal employees.

Sleighter added he did not deserve all of the credit and applauded the efforts of park staff and fellow agencies, including Pennsylvania Game and Fish commissions, Bureau of Forestry, state police and the magisterial district judges. Sleighter also gave special thanks to forest rangers Greg Eitner and Shawn Lynn for their guidance.

"There should be at least 50 other names listed on this plaque along with mine," said Sleighter, who added he was more than honored to receive the award.

On the heels of Sleighter's moment of recognition, park manager Behe touched on services available to the public as well as past and future plans at the park complex, which consists of the Gap and Buchanan's Birth Place.

Over the last three years, the state park has averaged 406,239 to 450,875 visitors. Behe noted even though Cowans Gap is not considered a "big park" and only spans 1,085 acres, there is a "lot to do" in that small area. Opportunities available to the general public are swimming, fishing, hiking, camping, picnicking and educational activities with park naturalist Beth Garner. Upcoming events include free fishing days, Get Outdoors programs, Sunday chaplain services and the Volksmarch on September 12.

In terms of financial assistance, Behe stated the state park allocation from a state level was reduced by 7.5 percent in the current 2008-09 fiscal year. As a result, park officials have taken steps to maintain services while making reductions in other areas, such as vehicle and equipment purchases and training. Improvements made, however, in recent years have included new park entrance signs, tree removal, main road paving, a bridge replacement at the upper end of the 42-acre lake and campground improvements and rehabilitation.

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