By Andrew Schmertz
As he walked into Paterson Great Falls Park, Dr. Paul Kovalski finished a 30-year journey.
“To make an accomplishment of this magnitude and end up in my home state of New Jersey, it’s a joyous excitement. It’s a little surreal but it’s like coming back home to finish a life long trip and then back home in the Garden State,” Kovalski said.
The dentist from Marlboro — who will speak to anyone who wants to hear about our national parks — made it his life long mission to visit them all.
“The one thing that I enjoy about the Park Service is it’s America. It’s honest. We look at every aspect. We have women history sites, black history sites, Hispanic. I was in Guam and America Somoa, we don’t really get exposed to that but that exposes the whole Polynesian culture,” he said. “The toughest one was Ounalashka National Monument. It’s down on the Aleutian chain going down the Southwest. Severe weather. Twenty percent of the time you might be able to get in there.”
“This is Kobuk Valley National Park. It’s famous for the largest sand dunes north of the Arctic Circle,” Kovalski said.
“War in the Pacific. This is a site that I visited in Guam,” he said.
“Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama, a fairly new site. Tuskegee Institute is also a site there, but this is where African-Americans trained, as far as the famous Tuskegee Airmen, and developed on the best group of fighters in our whole World War II,” Kovalski said.
“That guy up there is a large brown bear at Katmai with the mountains in the background. That is the park that’s famous where the bears by the waterfalls are eating the salmon,” he said.
“This is a Rose Patagonia. It’s a native orchid from the New Jersey Pine Barrens,” he siad.
With his stop in Paterson, his national parks passport is now complete.
“The passport system was developed years ago to encourage people to visit the lesser known sites. You get sites like Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, but there’s a lot of little sites like Knife River Villages in North Dakota, Charles Pinckney in South Carolina, little tiny sites that maybe I would visit, but not the average person. We have a passport system and you go there and they stamp the dates and place,” said Kovalski.
“It’s truly a pleasure to have a such a national park traveler extraordinaire here,” said Paterson Great Falls Superintendent Darren Boch. “This is our Grand Canyon, this is our Yellowstone, this is the site of America’s first planned city of industry and innovation founded by Alexander Hamilton,” said Boch.
Great Falls is the 413th national park that Kovalski has visited and as of today he’s seen them all. But Congress is often making new national parks and he says he’s prepared to hit the road when they do.
“The national parks need to be protected. Those environments are critical and they’re some of the last special places left in the U.S.,” he said.