INTERVIEW with Dave Sapienza, Park Naturalist, Division of Parks and Recreation
What do you do to support outdoor recreation in Ohio?
Have you heard of nature deficit disorder? It’s the idea that kids are so occupied with television and computer games and school and community activities, that they no longer have time to explore the natural world. I conduct nature programs and special events at our division’s Lake Hope State Park to try to bridge the gap between people and nature.
What type of programs do you offer to help bridge this gap?
Popular programs include our annual youth fishing tournament, hand-feeding hummingbirds program and our Halloween celebration. These involve students in hands-on experiences with nature and challenge their imaginations in the outdoors. Our park’s website, which I developed and maintain, provides recreational information and encourages exploring the outdoors.
Lake Hope, like many state parks, provides great opportunities for camping, hiking, swimming, boating and fishing. People are also drawn to Lake Hope to star-gaze, visit historical sites, and backpack in the nearby Zaleski State Forest. Our mountain bike trail was recently chosen as the “best in Ohio” by readers of Mountain Bike Magazine.
How do you develop these programs?
I spend a lot of time planning, marketing and evaluating programs to insure their success. For example, the popularity of the hummingbird program encouraged me to study the natural history of the birds and proper feeding techniques. Then I developed methods to present this information to a varied audience.
Marketing the program has included creating fact sheets, writing and distributing press releases and conducting live radio and television interviews. I evaluate the program by recording attendance and written and verbal comments, which enable me to improve the program for visitors. Photographer Jim Slonaker took the humming bird photograph above which has enhanced promotion of our program.
What else do you do to support outdoor recreation in Ohio?
I oversee the operation of the Lake Hope Nature Center which offers informational displays about the cultural and natural history of the park, including live animal displays. As part of our nature center activities, we conduct an annual birdwalk.
We loan binoculars to participants who request them and I carry along a field guide that helps us identify birds we observe. I also stay active with local organizations that encourage outdoor recreation. These include the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Athens Bicycle Club, Hocking College and Ohio University.
What is most challenging about your job?
All the “behind-the-scenes” work that goes into providing programs and special events is challenging, but it is worth it to see visitors of all ages enjoy a special experience with the outdoors.