When Ray Bukowski was offered the chance to become the new area supervisor of Island Beach State Park, no one had to ask him twice.
"I said, 'Sure, here I am,' " he said in a recent interview at the park office.
He put in his time with the state Department of Environmental Protection before he became the overseer of this nine-mile long barrier island that looks much like it must have when Henry Hudson first sailed the "Half-Moon" into Barnegat Bay back in 1609.
Bukowski began working for the DEP back in 1992, after he graduated with a degree in environmental science from Stockton State College.
He spent nearly 20 years working in a variety of DEP posts - including air enforcement, coastal enforcement and a stint at the DEP's Deputy Commissioner's office - before coming to Island Beach last December.
Butkowski, who lives in Brick, grew up on the water.
"I have been a baymen, a waterfowl guy my whole life," he said. "I fished and surfed here. I'm a boat guy. I have a captain's license."
But Bukowski has taken heat from some who don't think he should be using outside groups like Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and the Friends of Island Beach State Park to help with interpretive programs at the park.
Bukowski grimaces when asked if he's privatizing Island Beach. So many positions have been eliminated during tight budget years, there are no jobs to privatize, he says.
"There's no jobs to take away," he said. "We are not having them take over."
Sierrra Club of New Jersey President Jeff Tittel earlier this year blasted the DEP's decision to install Bukowski at Island Beach and called it the "opening battle" in privatizing the park.
Bukowski was a "clear political appointment," Tittel said
"...this is all about playing politics and privatizing our parks, not about running our parks," Tittel said in an op-ed piece earlier this year.
Not so, Bukowski says.
Island Beach has partnered with groups like Conserve Wildlife of New Jersey to continue interpretive programs - sometimes for a nominal fee - at the park in tight fiscal times, he said.
"The only budget we have is for seasonal staff," he said. "It's very limited."
"You can't get blood from a stone," Bukowski added. "I view myself as the guy to get these things together. We need to give people a bigger bang for their buck. I want to invest more money into the park. I'd like to see a staffing increase. We have to find very creative ways."
He calls his seasonal staff of 129 "phenomenal and professional."
"Every day we are saving people," Bukowski said.
And too often Island Beach lifeguards and park police have to assist with emergencies that aren't in their jurisdiction.
Case in point - Tices Shoal.
The area in Barnegat Bay has been used for years by boaters who anchor in the water, party and sometimes try to enter the bayside of Island Beach by rafts.
"We have an alcohol problem here and there's no alcohol allowed in the park," he said. "They are coming in from the bay either carrying alcohol or already consumed a lot of it. It's gotten progressively worse."
Visitors swimming on unguarded beaches also impact the safety of others who pay to swim on the park's two bathing beaches. Staff and equipment must be used to respond to emergencies even on unguarded beaches, which leaves less personnel on guarded beaches, he said.
"It's an enormous problem," Bukowski said. "It's a drain on our resources. All of these thousands of people who are lawful patrons are compromised. This isn't Baywatch. We don't have thousands of dollars. It stretches our resources very thin."
The 43-year-old Bukowski wants to emulate the legendary former Island Beach superintendent William C. Vibbert. Vibbert was a hands-on park superintendent who had little patience with bureaucracy. He often wore his bathing suit under his uniform so he would be ready to assist in rescues.
"I do go back to the Bill Vibbert style," Bukowski said. "The place is for the people. We should be making the best business decisions on a daily basis. I'm all for public access."
But unlike Vibbert, Bukowski and his wife chose not to live in the former superintendent's house on the bay side of the park. They have an 11-year-old son with Down Syndrome and two 8-year-old twin boys. The family wants to stay close to Brick Township schools, Bukowski said.
For more information on the 2012 summer programs, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/programs/islandbeach/.
For more information on Island Beach, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/