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Dave Ferraro named new executive director of Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park

Dave Ferraro is having a great time.

He started his job as the full-time executive director of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park about three weeks ago and has already accomplished a lot, he said in an interview.

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“It’s incredible. It’s so good. People are excited, people are being so kind to me,” Ferraro said.

For example, the organization has secured a $50,000 grant for a van that will travel the park and reach out to park-goers who do not speak English as a native language. He’s also been at work organizing Cocktails for Trails, an annual fundraising event for the Friends group.

For years, the Friends operated with a board of directors and a cadre of volunteers that kept things running. Ferraro said that, after the flooding in Ellicott City that damaged parts of Patapsco Valley State Park, stakeholders in the region started to realize that a volunteer organization couldn’t keep up with all the attention that was coming its way.

“We just did not have the capacity,” said Ferraro, who was a member of the board of directors. To handle the interest from nonprofits and other groups seeking to partner or help in the Patapsco Valley, or to organize volunteers who wanted to spend time in the valley, the Friends group needed to go professional.

Around the same time, an anonymous donor and longtime fan of the park contributed a “multiyear donation” to create an executive director position and fund other operational expenses. Neighbors, friends and other stakeholders in the valley started prodding Ferraro to take the job about four months ago, he said.

“I figured, well, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ferraro said.

In a statement, park manager Rob Dyke called the Friends group a “great partner.”

“The multiyear donation and the hiring of Dave will have wonderful impacts on the park, the staff, and of course our visitors,” Dyke said.

Ferraro said he has two priorities for the organization. One is to bring all the people who are involved in the park and who use it “under one umbrella.” Two is to connect with user groups who use the park but are not yet involved with it and get them involved in activities such as cleanups and financial contributions.

“We want to be good stewards,” Ferraro said.

Lindsey Baker, executive director of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, said her organization has always had a strong partnership with the Friends group.

“Now that Dave has been hired as a full-time executive director, we are very excited for this next chapter of working together for the Patapso Valley,” she said.

Ferraro lives along the Patapsco River and was personally affected when it flooded last summer. River Road, where he lives, is still partially closed because of damage from the storms.

“I was here when it happened, that stuff is scary, man,” He said. “The Patapsco River can be a dangerous river.”

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He’s cognizant of conversations in and around the river valley about why it’s such a dangerous river, and why Ellicott City might flood again — conversations involving climate, development and land use.

Howard County and historic Ellicott City are embroiled in debates about how best to preserve and protect the historic charm of the mill town while also protecting the city from more deaths and damage from flooding. But Ferraro isn’t getting involved in those debates.

“We’re about the park proper,” he said.

And, despite the flooding that he’s witnessed from his own home along the river, Ferraro is not about to leave. His new office is at park headquarters, between the park manager and assistant park manager.

“I’m in love with this park; I want to go for a trail run, I want to hike with my kids, I want to go kayaking,” Ferraro said. “The fact that I can do that without getting in a car and driving somewhere, that’s a big deal.”

Cocktails for Trails, a fundraiser for the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park, is scheduled for Aug. 8 at the Elkridge Furnace Inn. Tickets, which cost $75, are for sale online.

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