Celebrating the legacy of John Hutzky

Preserving and enhancing the Upper Delaware River Valley through a unique cooperative agreement

Posted 12/23/20

In 1978, the Delaware River was designated as part of the Wild and Scenic River System. By an act of Congress, an experiment and an agreement was forged that the valley would be preserved and …

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Celebrating the legacy of John Hutzky

Preserving and enhancing the Upper Delaware River Valley through a unique cooperative agreement


In 1978, the Delaware River was designated as part of the Wild and Scenic River System. By an act of Congress, an experiment and an agreement was forged that the valley would be preserved and enhanced through a River Management Plan and a council. The council was made up of representatives of the New York towns and Pennsylvania townships in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), which had jurisdiction over the water.

It was a grand experiment. The first rangers arrived in 1980. For the next eight years, stakeholders up and down the river valley worked on management plans and cooperative agreements that would guide future development. They formed the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and adopted the Upper Delaware River Management Plan. Guiding the process from the NPS side was the first superintendent John T. Hutzky.

An avid reader of all things local, Hutzky tirelessly worked for the first 16 years of this experiment to make room for the many points of view regarding land stewardship in the region, facing great opposition that was filled with misinformation, fears and the perpetual conflict between public good and private property rights.

John Hutzky died on December 6, 2020. As he was a great collaborator, we thought it fitting to put together short remembrances as a tribute to his vision that different perspectives make up the whole. It is timely, in this season of gift-giving, that we recognize and increase awareness of the unique national/local partnership that is a tremendous gift to the area, especially as more people are flocking to this unique river valley.

— Laurie Stuart, publisher, River Reporter

John Hutzky became a legend in the Upper Delaware River Valley, not only for being the first and longest-serving NPS superintendent for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (UPDE) at 16 years but also due to the commonly heard observation that he was exactly the right person at the right time for the job. He embraced the cooperative management model that resulted from hard-fought negotiations to gain federal protection for the 73.4 miles of river in New York and Pennsylvania while the vast majority of the 55,574.5 acres in the Congressional boundary remain under private stewardship. His leadership, temperament and respect for what all the contributors on the federal, state and local levels brought to this unique partnership set the tone for the successful adoption of the River Management Plan and the Land and Water Use Guidelines that remain our guiding documents 34 years later. Upon retiring in 1995, John was quoted in The Upper Delaware newsletter as saying, “What a wonderful ride it’s been! I’ve had the opportunity to spend 33 years working in some wonderful places with some remarkable people. The NPS has been more than a career. It’s been the source of my well-being and inspiration. I will miss it. At the same time, I feel fulfilled in knowing that I had something to do, no matter how small, with nurturing, sustaining and preserving many special places, such as the Upper Delaware.” John T. Hutzky’s humble service benefits all generations who also appreciate the character and resources of the UPDE.

– Laurie Ramie, executive director, UDC, Inc.

John was the first superintendent of UPDE and was a strong leader for the park during a time when there was not a lot of public support. I always got behind him on River Road when headed to work at headquarters—always knew it was him because he was wearing his Stetson. His love of the river and the residents was obvious when talking with him.

He will be missed.

– Kevin Reish, park ranger

John will always hold a very special place in the history of the UPDE. I don’t know how he did it, but he withstood some very trying times during UPDE’s initial planning and operational efforts that few park superintendents have had to endure. Yet through it all, it seemed that he was a model of the profession in which he served and maintained consistent respect for those with whom he worked, not just within the NPS, but with the much broader coalition of partners, neighbors, friends and even those opposed to our presence who made up the greater Upper Delaware river valley community.

I’m sure he has been missed many times over the years, as his shoes were a hard pair to fill.

– Cal Hite, second UPDE superintendent

The memories that stand out in my mind involve the controversy and many, many meetings surrounding the formulation of the River Management Plan. The first version of the plan was developed by the NPS and was rejected in a series of noisy turbulent public meetings in 1986. John Hutzky had the insight and wisdom to reach out to the supervisors of the river valley towns and townships and ask them to develop the plan. John also went to great lengths to convince NPS management that the plan had to developed by the local communities. It was the right approach, and the plan they developed was adopted and led to the formation of the UDC. The UDC is still working to look after the interests of the river valley people and communities while also working with NPS in fulfilling its role in managing recreation and protecting cultural and natural resources.

John was deeply thoughtful, always professional and he always cared. It was a great privilege to work with John. His work has endured.

– Sandy Schultz,
assistant superintendent in John’s administration

Somewhere there is still a photo of John Hutzky in the front of a canoe crashing through the whitewater of the Cedar Rapids. It appeared on the front page of the Times Herald-Record and he later kept a framed copy in his NPS headquarters office. I know about this because I was the paddler in the back of the canoe, a position I held often when he canoed the river. At the time, I was a summer interpretive ranger and editor of The River Reporter.

As others have said, John was professional, honest, fair and one of the finest public officials I have ever met. He protected the river (i.e. stopping a hydro plant on the Shohola Creek, bringing in state and federal officials to address the Cortese Landfill) while publicly advocating for the special public/private arrangement that was created for the Upper Delaware. He carried a copy of the federal legislation with him to every meeting and often literally recited “chapter and verse” to explain what authority the NPS had (and what it didn’t).

John Hutzky was the perfect choice to lead the new UPDE (a name he gave the new park when he eliminated the word “National” from the title). Taking nothing away from the superintendents who followed, he was simply the best.

John was also good friends with Dave Hulse, who also worked as an interpretive ranger and for The River Reporter. The two often traveled to other national parks, particularly after John retired. Dave also passed earlier this year.

I remember John and my years with the NPS fondly. Together we were just part of the long history to protect this beautiful river valley.

– Glenn Pontier, as posted on the
Upper Delaware Scenic Byway Facebook page

Very sad news. As one of John’s initial hires, I am grateful for the opportunities I had at UPDE. John quickly earned my respect and that of his staff. John had the difficult challenge of not only establishing a new park but also engaging many opponents to our presence in the river valley. Through it all, he maintained his professionalism and commitment to the Upper Delaware.

– Mike Reuber, one of the first UPDE rangers

I am very sorry to hear of John’s passing. I enjoyed my time on the UDC with John and learned from him. He was tough but fair. The world needs more like John. 

– Larry H. Richardson,
2020 UDC chair (Town of Cochecton)

Farewell, John. I hope one day we adequately acknowledge and thank you for leading this “Unique NPS Area” into the new era of protecting and conserving without acquiring the land… through understanding, cooperation, collaboration and respect. I also hope we continue that leadership for the next (almost) 50 years.

(Read her full comment here.) 

– Carla Hauser Hahn, administrative secretary to John throughout his UPDE tenure 

For the beautiful memorial tribute that John wrote for his friend Dave Hulse, which gives you insight into John’s retirement life, visit www.bit.ly/davehulsetrib.


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