Cowans Gap Gets New Manager
Three weeks remain until the always hectic Memorial Day holiday weekend gets under way at Cowans Gap State Park. Now under different leadership, the park’s newest manager is planning to use the remaining time to acquaint himself with park staff and services and prepare himself for what will undoubtedly be a busy summer season.
Park manager Ryan Donovan was appointed in early April by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as the replacement for former, longtime manager Steve Behe. Behe logged just shy of 20 years with the state park located in the scenic Allens Valley area of Fulton County. He has relocated to Shawnee State Park where he is serving as assistant regional parks manager for State Parks Region 3.
Coming here from Colonel Denning in Cumberland County, Donovan, 28, was employed over the last three years as park manager. Col. Denning reportedly draws in around 80,000 visitors annually in comparison to the more than 440,000 who visit Cowans Gap.
Donovan told the “News” he got his very first taste of the state park system while attending Pennsylvania State University. Completing a 12-week internship at Caledonia State Park through his major of recreation, park and tourism management, Donovan graduated with a bachelor’s degree and accepted his first position at Pine Grove as a laborer. He moved onto the position of park ranger and opted to enroll himself in Region 3’s park manager trainee program.
During the last several weeks the new park manager has been busily commuting back and forth between Cowans Gap and Col. Denning, where officials are finishing the interview process and hope to quickly name a replacement. In the meantime, Donovan has been using his time wisely, familiarizing himself with the Gap’s dedicated staff and rustic facilities sprawled across 1,085 acres.
What little free time can be drummed up is spent hiking the grounds and preparing for his move into the park manager’s res- idence located on the Gap’s premises and upcoming nuptials with fiance Shauna Brown, a fourthgrade teacher at nearby Saxton Liberty Elementary.
Donovan said in addition to enjoying his contact with the Gap’s “very committed” employees, he is looking forward to meeting local residents, other park visitors and campsite host families who call the Gap home. He further stated he hopes to establish partnerships with local groups and organizations.
Even though the unknown is typically accompanied by a certain level of apprehension, Donovan noted one of his goals would be to build on what is already in existence at the Gap.
“Change comes slowly,” stated the Newville, Cumberland County native. “I’m not planning anything major the public would see ... just some internal things. My hope is for a positive change for everyone involved.”
Working his way up the ladder over the last five years, Donovan said he’s looking forward to the new challenges the larger park will present. On the heels of last summer’s bacterial outbreak that sickened more than a dozen park visitors, one of the most pressing challenges the park and its new manager could likely be facing is the reopening of the park’s beach.
A prior, joint investigation by DCNR and the state Department of Environmental Protection did not confirm the source of the contamination. However, the E. coli strain in the lake water at that time could have been caused by human feces, DCNR officials have indicated.
The beach officially reopened to the public last Tuesday, May 1, and Donovan is happy to report water testing and readings have been within normal levels. Attendance is expected to increase later this month when local schools begin summer break.
Future park visitors are reminded to take routine, precautionary measures such as refraining from swimming when sick or swallowing lake water; washing hands after swimming; checking baby diapers often; and changing diapers in a bathroom or at a diaper changing station.
Swimming is allowed between the hours of 8 a.m. and sunset. With no lifeguards on duty, persons swim at their own risk .