NOTE: Earlier this year, the Chamber of Commerce published its annual Genesee County Tourism magazine and for the second year in a row, The Batavian participated in the publication by producing photos and stories. Today, for our Sunday reading, we're publishing four of our stories. For more on why Genesee County is a great place to live and to visit, click here for VisitGeneseeNY.com.
Doug Kelly gets to do things every day he really enjoys: Helping to maintain a diverse and interesting ecosystem and providing people with a place to play and relax.
"This park is a kind of joy for me," said Kelly, who is manager for Darien Lakes State Park. "I enjoy being able to work outdoors and have interaction with people who have come to be in the outdoors. I can teach them a little and give them something to enjoy."
Kelly overseas a more than 1,800 acres of woodlands and meadows with thousands of plant and animals species, a 12-acre recreational lake (boating, swimming and fishing), and 158 campsites.
In his four-year tenure as park manager he's introduced weekly music concerts and disk golf as well as overseen various conservation measures, including partnering with a local group to reclaim several acres of former farmland into meadows.
The park is traversed by more than 18 miles of trails, both for hiking and snowmobiling, and the picturesque-in-places Eleven Mile Creek.
"The amount of open space is really one of the park's strengths," Kelly said. "There are a variety of paths for activities and all of it is open for recreation, hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hunting. That's a real plus for the park. You're able to camp here, hike here, swim here. That's the benefit of the park."
Kelly, who is married with two school-age children, lives in his hometown of Perry, in Wyoming County, just south of Genesee County. He started his parks career as a teenager at Darien Lakes, working as a recreation assistant.
As he completed his bachelor's in technology of wildlife management at SUNY Catskills, he moved his way up in park management. After a stint with the Delaware parks system, he moved back to New York and managed Beaver Island on Grand Island.
When the chance came to return to Darien Lakes, he couldn't let the opportunity pass by.
"The biodiversity of the park is special," Kelly said. "The land can vary so much, from older forest -- stands of trees that have been here before the park was formed -- to meadows we are helping to restore and maintain, and the shrub in between. That kind of layout gives the park a great number of different communities and habitats."
One of Kelly's biggest innovations at the park has been disk golf. The year-old course is bringing in amateur and pro golfers alike from throughout Western New York. Expert golfers find that the new course, which winds through an old apple orchard and wooded hills, presents a fun challenge.
Though Kelly doesn't play the sport himself, he learned how successful a course could be at Beaver Island.
"To see people that come in, a new group of people that never would have come if we didn't have this activity here, is really exciting," Kelly said.
He believes the challenging course will grow in popularity as more disk golfers learn about it.
All-in-all, Kelly said he will continue to work to find ways to improve the park and make it more attractive to the people of Western New York.
"Once in a while I hear, 'wow, I never knew this park was here,' " Kelly said. "If we can reach out and grab people who wouldn't normally come to the park and then they see what we have and come back year after year, that is really good."