Dr. Paul Kovalski of Monmouth County, displays his park books with stamps from all the park he visited, along with Paterson's Great Falls on Friday, December 23.(Photo: Marko Georgiev/NorthJersey.com)
PATERSON, N.J. — About a year ago, Paul Kovalski’s personal list showed he had visited all but 20 of the 413 national parks around the country.
In the ensuing months, the dentist from Monmouth County continued checking off the remaining parks, but delayed going to Paterson’s Great Falls.
“I wanted to hold off on it until the end,” Kovalski said. “I wanted to give it special recognition.”
Standing in the visitor’s center at the Great Falls, Kovalski on Friday pulled out his collection of seven passport books from the national park service and found an empty spot among the official attendance stamps from the other 412 locations. After a ranger applied the Great Falls stamp, Kovalski’s mission was accomplished.
“I’m a Jersey guy and to me, this park is a lot like New Jersey,” Kovalski said, explaining why he saved the Great Falls for last. “It has the Jersey spirit.”
Anyone who spends a few minutes listening to Kovalski could attest to his encyclopedic knowledge of America’s national parks. He knows which state was the last to get a national park (Delaware), which was site was the first designated as a national historical park (Morristown), and how many parks are within the Arctic Circle (six).
For the record, Friday wasn’t Kovalski’s first visit to the Great Falls. He says his parents used to bring him there when he was a boy during visits to his grandmother’s house in Clifton. But that was decades before the National Park Service added the Great Falls to its inventory.
Dr. Paul Kovalski of Monmouth County completes his tour of the more than 400 sites in the National Park System at Paterson's Great Falls on Friday, December 23. (Photo: Marko Georgiev/NorthJersey.com)
“If I have any questions about National Park Service history, I know whom to call,” said Darren Boch, superintendent of the Great Falls park.
Kovalski said the first national park he visited was Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine, Fla., when he was 7 years old. The next-to-last site on his checklist was the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., which he said he went to earlier this month.
Kovalski ranks Glacier National Park in northwest Montana as his favorite, talks glowingly of his times at the parks in Alaska and fondly recalls the retired engineers he met at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa. He also spends time as a volunteer at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Dr. Paul Kovalski of Monmouth County, displays his park books with stamps from all the park he visited, along with Paterson's Great Falls on Friday, December 23. (Photo: Marko Georgiev/NorthJersey.com)
This year, Kovalski said he put in 230 hours of volunteer time at the Water Gap, answering visitors’ questions, pointing lost hikers in the right direction, and kayaking along the Delaware River.
“They call me ‘Mr. Park Service,’” Kovalski said of his counterparts at the Water Gap.
Kovalski said he sometimes can’t contain himself during flights as he looks out the window trying to spot the places he has visited.
“If you’re sitting next to me on a plane, you’re either going to enjoy yourself, or you’re going to ask to be moved to another seat,” the dentist said.