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Meet the new Upper Delaware NPS superintendent

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 4/14/21

BEACH LAKE, PA — Joe Salvatore sums himself up as “a simple man.” By that, he means a regular guy, the boy next door, someone you’d like to have a beer with. He’ll go …

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Meet the new Upper Delaware NPS superintendent

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BEACH LAKE, PA — Joe Salvatore sums himself up as “a simple man.” By that, he means a regular guy, the boy next door, someone you’d like to have a beer with. He’ll go for that beer, too, especially if it’s a craft beer. (He’s always on the hunt for the latest India pale ales.)

Maybe that’s because he’s still a hometown boy at heart. “I grew up in West Virginia. There were 56 kids in my high school graduating class.” Since then, he’s lived in many places around the world and visited even more but, for him, home still evokes images of rural America.

So, when the bureaucracy and urban lifestyle of DC began to wear on him after seven years with the National Park Service, he looked for a management role in a less dense area “somewhere east of the Mississippi.” His first assignment in anticipation of that role was a six-month stint as acting superintendent of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It was there that he discovered the Delaware River and, during a trip upriver, he was hooked by the beauty and aura of the Upper Delaware region.

The Upper Delaware superintendent’s vacancy left by Kris Heister’s acceptance of the deputy superintendent spot at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site was the opening for which he’d been waiting. He applied for, and won, the job he coveted.

His new office at Upper Delaware headquarters in Beach Lake, PA is probably much less grand than, say, that of the superintendent at Yellowstone or Yosemite. But its three-window view of the Delaware River in all its spring glory more than makes up for whatever the interior space lacks in size and décor. “The blinds on the middle window stay closed, or I’d never get anything done,” he admits, adding, “Once you’ve spent years on a submarine, windows are always a luxury, but this particular viewshed is mind-boggling.”

Salvatore’s life work has been to serve his country. Right out of high school, he spent six years (1986-1992) on active duty with the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine based in Holy Loch, Scotland, during which time he saw action in Operation Desert Storm. From 1992-2001, he served as a defense contractor supporting the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the U.S. Joint Forces Command. Beginning in 2001, he spent 10 years with the Joint Forces Command in three positions that earned him exemplary service awards: the Joint Civilian Service Achievement Award, the Joint Civilian Service Accommodation Award and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He then accepted a position in Yokosuka, Japan as advisor to the executive director and admiral for regional strategies, programming and resource management requirements. While there, tragedy struck when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami decimated the nuclear plant at Fukushima.

Along the way, Salvatore earned undergraduate business and MBA degrees, all the while working full-time and raising a family. (He’s now a proud and delighted grandfather.)

Salvatore returned stateside, joining the National Park Service in 2013, which initially landed him in charge of facilities for the National Mall Monument and grounds. “It was a great job in a fun place, but being so close to Capitol Hill came with a lot of added responsibility and stress. I finally went to my superiors and told them I wanted to get out of DC.” That led to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area job and then to Beach Lake.

With only three months at the new job under his belt, Salvatore is still getting acquainted with the region, the locals, the unique nature of this national park without gates and his own staff. “So far, the best thing about this job is the staff; they’re phenomenal. The worst, well, the most challenging thing, is COVID-19.” Elbow and foot bumps don’t cut it with a self-confessed extrovert prone to hearty handshakes and bro hugs. “It is what it is,” sighs Salvatore, “but it makes everything a little harder, a little more complicated, a little less straightforward.”

“I’ve set three priorities going into this job: the first is staffing and organization design, the second is community relations and the last is establishment of a project funding cycle.” As Salvatore reported at the April 1 Upper Delaware Council meeting, there is considerable turnover among his staff at this time. That, combined with onboarding of key new hires and pandemic-related upsurge in park usage, has created the need for review and analysis of current organization design and staffing needs.

Salvatore is also aware that the park service is not held in universally high regard by the local community, something he’d like to change during his tenure. “I want to get out and talk with people, find out what we can do to make their lives easier, to soften some of the adverse effects of tourism and to develop collaboration with local government.”

The unusual nature of this gateless park with limited building infrastructure also makes it less able to generate revenue from admission and parking fees, concessionaire permits, etc. Although Salvatore says there are some fees from canoe liveries and other river business vendors, most other national parks derive revenue from cyclical projects as well as visitor and concessionaire fees. He hopes to develop some project cycle revenue here almost immediately.

Asked about the first flashpoint topic of his administration, the Skinner Falls Bridge, Salvatore demurs on a recommendation. “I don’t know enough about it yet... I have to attend the next meeting, discuss it with local officials and actually take a look at the bridge before I could begin to hazard an opinion.”

At a picnic table beside the river, directly outside his office, Salvatore ponders both the view and the prospect of spending the rest of his days here. “I’m eligible for retirement in a few years, but I plan to work for another 10 years until I’m 62. I’ll be on this job for as long as I think I can make a difference, and I may even live here forever,” said the simple man who has traveled the world and chosen to live and work in the Upper Delaware. He expects to close on a house in Honesdale next week.

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