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Keeping Watch Over Island Beach State Park: A Delicate Balance

Area Supervisor Ray Bukowski wants to offer as much as possible to the public while preserving park's ecosystem


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/



Kristin DiZenzo August 02, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Love this article but the only thing is their 11 year old Brendan has down snydrome. And he is a very loving little boy!!!
Patricia A. Miller (Editor) August 02, 2012 at 07:12 PM
My mistake, Kristin. It's been corrected. Thanks!
Bill Vibbert August 03, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Dear Pat, Thank you for your kind comments, and for your continued attention to Island Beach State Park. Your stories about Island Beach are always the best. Bill Vibbert
SAVEOURBAY August 03, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Pat, great article! Ray has done a great job in improving the interpretive programs. And is working hard to clean the park up as far a partying, excessive drinking associated with tices. I an glad you touched upon the rumors of the park becoming privatized. There is a lot of fisherman that believe they are going to sell plots of the beach for private businesses as a means for additional revenue for the state. Not surprising as nj will go to any length to make another buck. I have faith the people that love the park would come together and stop something like that from happening
Ægir August 03, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Glad to see someone that cares about the park taking control, it is about time. Hopefully the long downward spirial can be reversed. Perhaps that friends group can help financially, they have enough to do some good work instead of building model houses.
Chuck T August 03, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Ray Bukowski is the best thing to happen to Island Beach in years. In just a few short months, under his leadership, the park is thriving again after years of neglect. Let's hope he stays for a very long time!
skizma August 03, 2012 at 10:13 AM
Tice's Shoal......finally someone mentioned that problem. People anchor their boats and enter the park free of charge, while the rest pay up to do the same thing. What makes the boater free? no right. And the drunks are ridiculous. Why isn't the state police anchored right there as well? IBSP park employees should NOT bear this burden unless they get police and funding to assist. Good point.....
Dorothy August 03, 2012 at 01:12 PM
I am a professional artist and illustrator. A year or so ago I offered my services to paint murals on the walls of the Information Center (which, by the way, is so hidden no one knows it's there) No one ever got back to me. The cute little museum that was originally housed in a cottage near the entrance to the park is now empty. Who is responsible for these bad decisions? The Center is 6 miles out, past the beaches, who goes there? Someone is screwing up that beautiful place and needs to be held responsible. And, people need to STOP FEEDING THE FOXES! Why are there no signs stating this? They come to the road and get hit.
1stcav August 03, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Dorothy; glad you brought this to light, didn't know it, Ray this should be on YOUR list as a fixable problem , hope you address ASAP....Thanks for your dedication to our recreation area....we need someone who truly cares about the quality of life for ALL creatures on IB State Park , the bay needs our help , NOW !!
Sammy56 August 05, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Walk-in's are not charged at the front gate and these folks are walking in. If the park wants to charge these folks they are gong to have to change their entrance fee policy. Is it fair, or course not, but the park is hung by Trentons petard. The easiest thing for them to do is to remove the bayside platform and bayside boardwalk, the storms have done it several times and the state rebuilds it. Their was also a regulation p[assed this year that prohibits boats within 100 feet of the shoreline. Get the Park Police out there and enforce it, instead of just driving back and forth on the road and snacking on donuts in their little jail that should be a visitor center.
Jean Georgett September 03, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Tices Shoal is a wonderful part of IBSP for families on their boats as well as those that enter by car. It is not right to lump all boaters together as drunks. We have gone for years and it is a family tradition. Boaters are more than happy to pay to help support IBSP. Why not charge each boat a fee at the beginning of the season and give them a sticker for their boat. This could even help support lifeguards for that part of the beach. Keep Tices a fun family place!
Patricia A. Miller (Editor) September 03, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Hi Jean, FYI Tices Shoal is not part of Island Beach State Park, and does not fall under the park's jurisdiction, according to the area supervisor.
Mike January 21, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Ray Bukowski seems to be doing a fine job, within a very tight budget. Any one who lists Jeff Tittel. and the Sierra Club among his critics, is a good man.


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