Dale Luthringer is the Environmental Education Specialist for Cook Forest State Park. Around the Park he’s got a reputation as a “quiet hero” - a man who makes a difference without necessarily making a big splash. Originally from the Erie area, Dale has quite a varied background. He was a farmer for 9 years, a Marine Corp seargant, and a furniture maker. After his 4 years with the Marines, he moved to the area to attend school. Dale earned an A.S. in Wildlife Technology from Penn State DuBois and a B.S. in Applied Ecology from Clarion University.
Whether he’s leading a group of curious school kids through the Forest Cathedral, studying ecology with scientists from Japan, or giving the grand tour to dignitaries from India, Dale treats each excursion as a fresh opportunity to discover something new. We’re grateful he could take a few moments out of his busy schedule to share some thoughts on what it’s like to be a teacher in the Forest.
Q: Why don’t you give us a rundown of the responsibilities of an Environmental Education Specialist? It sounds so official.
A: OK, here’s a list of just some of my job duties. I create and lead teacher workshops and environmental education programs, with about 18,000 attending each year. I conduct various forms of ecological research: acid mine reclamation, white-tailed deer populations, West Nile virus, old growth forest documentation, National Audubon Society SAP's, Pennsylvania Herpetological Atlas, Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas, gypsy moth suppression, hemlock wooly adelgid, and so forth. I also develop various waysides and exhibits throughout the park, and assist in developing the park's Resource Management Plan. I organize various community educational and volunteer events such as the Woodsy Owl Workday, the Cook Forest Big Tree Extravaganza, and the Cook Forest French & Indian War Encampment.
Q: Is this the sort of career you always wanted, or did you have a different “calling” growing up?
A: No, I always wanted to work in the outdoors. I remember telling my mom that someday I'd get paid to take a walk in the woods. This job is a dream come true. Not only do I get to spend many days in one of the Northeast's finest old growth forests, but I get to take others along for the ride so that they can learn about this marvelous wonder as well.
Q: Getting paid to do what you love to do anyway - it’s something everybody dreams about, but not too many people ever achive . . .
A: Absolutely. I've been blessed abundantly by God in that I've been permitted to even have this job - it's like getting paid to do a hobby. What a wonderful opportunity to take people out into the natural world and show them a part of His wonderful creation.
Q: I think it’s fair to say that the folks you teach feel richer for it. We "Googled" you to get some background for this piece, and came across this writing by a member of the Eastern Native Tree Society:
"I would like to take the time to thank Dale Luthringer for his tireless efforts to make the event a success. DCNR [Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] owes Dale a lot. I hope they appreciate their tireless trooper. I'm sure the trees do."
A: Well, it’s certainly an honor and a privilege to do something that I've always enjoyed doing.