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Biology alumnus is an assistant park manager for largest complex of state parks in Pennsylvania

WHITE HAVEN, Pa. – Nicholas Sulzer ’12 lives in a historic farmhouse on more than 15,900 prime acres of wilderness in the middle of the former Village of Hickory Run in Carbon County. This homestead, built in the late 1800s, is teeming with miles of hiking trails, waterfalls and indigenous trees, as well as native trout, black bear, and countless other creatures, big and small.

It is the perfect work environment for the burly 6-foot, 3-inch Misericordia University alumnus who has been an avid hunter, angler and environmentalist since childhood. He calls the setting a way of life – others with his skillset and interests simply see it as a rewarding career as a park manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

“It’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle,’’ Sulzer says casually, while driving his DCNR-issued pickup truck along a narrow road leading to Boulder Field, a national natural landmark. “You live in the park, you are on call 24-7 – it is a lifestyle,’’ he repeats.

Driving along the access road, white oak, hickory, tulip poplar and other trees mask the forest floor from the overcast sky above in late fall. The son of John and Marilyn Sulzer of Lehighton, Pa., is quick to provide a colorful history lesson of Hickory Run State Park from its days as a leader in the timbering and tanning industries to resurrecting the name and significance of General Clay Trexler, who purchased the majority of the land for the park in the early 1900s.

Sulzer, though, is no historian as he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Misericordia University. And while he knows the history of Hickory Run, Lehigh Gorge and Nescopeck state parks well, he acknowledges that he still has work to do in memorizing the maze of trails, roads, camping sites, and lodging that he has been overseeing in the three-park complex since October 2016.

“I chose Misericordia because I knew I wanted to be in the science field and Misericordia had a well-rounded biology program,’’ he says. “It is very well versed in medical sciences, cellular biology and gross anatomy, but it also had the opportunities in the environmental sciences. In high school, I was drawn to those environmental science classes. I took everyone Misericordia offered.

“A lot of the science curriculum also teaches very good teamwork skills,’’ adds Sulzer, who oftentimes would study in Hafey-McCormick Science Hall until 3-4 a.m. with his lab partners. “We had small teams for our labs and we were encouraged to work together. The science building was very dear to us, as we spent a lot of time studying together and working together there.’’An Honors Program student, Sulzer collaborated with fellow students and faculty mentors to take full advantage of the community-based engagement at Misericordia. In one research project, he initiated a field study with Associate Professor Barbara McCraith, Ph.D., to examine how water withdrawal from Bowmans Creek by the natural gas industry affected the health of the stream and macroinvertebrates. With Associate Professor Anthony Serino, Ph.D., he participated in the University’s forest fragmentation monitoring study to determine the impact select Marcellus Shale development hadon small mammals in Tunkhannock Township.

Overall, Sulzer is responsible for maintenance and clerical operations at the largest complex in the state park system. It has an annual budget of about $2.7 million and includes more than 25,000 acres and 43 staff. The 27-year-old supervises a staff of nine salaried and 14 seasonal employees, while managing and planning work for everyday operations. His duties include overseeing lodging, road and beach maintenance to participating on committees that oversee long-range capital improvement projects, including construction of a new $8 million office and visitor center, road improvements to the Day Use Area and Boulder Field, and an access point for hiking, biking and whitewater boating.

Sulzer’s journey with DCNR began in 2012 as a ranger trainee at Tobyhanna State Park. After six months at the Monroe County facility, he started to climb the ranks and gain additional experience in the system. A brief two-month assignment at Hickory Run State Park preceded his move to western Pennsylvania’s Region 2 Office in Prospect, Pa., that oversees operations for more than 20 state parks from Presque Isle State Park in Erie to Ryerson Station State Park in Richhill Township, Greene County.

During his 2½ years in the region, he worked in every park in the region and was an interim manager ineight of them. In addition to his operations, maintenance, visitor services and recreational activities training, Sulzer also earned certification in water rescue, search and rescue, traffic control, conflict management, wildlands firefighting, and as a law enforcement officer. Sulzer’s road to Hickory Run State Park and his long-term career began among the same cascading waterfalls, meandering streams and beautiful forests that he manages today. A mere 30 minutes from his childhood home, the Lehighton High School graduate fished, hunted and hiked there regularly with his family for years. It is a tradition that continues to this day.

“I grew up utilizing state parks and state forests,’’ he says. “Our family vacations were to state parks. So knowing that my work is preserving this land for future generations is something that really hits home and is special to me.’’Sulzer remains engaged with the campus community, particularly the Department of Biology. He was a guest speaker for the inaugural Biology Day during the fall semester that enabled high school students to examine careers in biology and participate in experiential learning opportunities. “It’s definitely a big part of my life,’’ Sulzer says about his alma mater. “One of the best things Misericordia taught me was a strong work ethic. The degree was very challenging and difficult, but it taught me the hard work I needed to succeed. I chose Misericordia because of the size of the school and the one-on-one attention with the professors.’’