BARKER – As if the lure of a state park manager job on the shores of Lake Ontario wasn’t enticing enough, what probably clinched the deal for Eric Hoppe was the historical significance of Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, circa 1870s, at Golden Hill State Park.
“It’s really nice,” said Hoppe, a restoration carpenter by trade. “Every time I look at it, I see something different.
“I like the quoin corners – they’re phenomenal ,” he said of the decorative, smooth limestone quoining found at the corners of the lighthouse.
Hoppe, a Hudson Valley native, took the reins here in late May. First employed by the state parks system as a restoration carpenter in the Hudson Valley in 2007, he was named maintenance supervisor in the Genesee Region in 2012. This is his first state park manager job.
“I am excited for the opportunity this is affording me,” he said.
Hoppe recently took some time from learning the ropes on his new job to chat about what brought him to Barker.
How did you get involved in restoration carpentry?
My father owned a business – he was a general contractor in the early 1970s and before that, he was a tool and die maker, so he has a real attention to detail. I worked with him through high school and then took a job taking care of lawns and landscaping for about 40 places.
I got back into carpentry after that, working on restaurants along the whole East Coast. I needed time to heal after a car accident and when I came back home, I started to work with my father again and we became partners in 1996.
We did historical restoration, working on stone homes from the 1640s all the way to the Victorians from around the 1880s. I really enjoyed that and worked on my woodworking skills. I even did work at Frederic Church’s Olana (the Hudson River artist’s home turned museum), creating picture moldings. I worked in historic preservation for years.
How did you make the leap to state parks?
My dad wanted to retire and 9/11 hit and business wasn’t as good and I was looking for something more stable. An opportunity came up for a restoration carpenter at a state park in the Taconic Region and they hired me. It gave me a chance to shine and show my skills, because I had general contracting experience – electrical, plumbing, running machinery, as well as carpentry.
And how did you become a park manager?
I was told that to advance in the state parks, you’d have to take tests, do well and be willing to move around. It was a direction I always wanted – you know, set the ladders a little higher to climb. If you did well, they’d canvass you for jobs. I took tests for maintenance supervisor and for park manager. I was offered a job in Brooklyn ... but it would take me five hours to commute. I had to tell them “no.”
Then a job came up for maintenance supervisor for the Genesee region, and I started in September 2012. That included Hamlin, Lakeside, Conesus Lake, Silver Lake, Darien Lake and Letchworth. I lived right in Letchworth. It’s a wonderful place with incredible views. But they were still canvassing for park manager because I had taken both tests and this (Golden Hill) park came up.
So, what do you think?
I miss maintenance, but this was a beautiful park before I got here – it’s not like anything needs fixing. I just hope to put a few touches on it.
I work to make parks beautiful for people who are on vacation. It’s the ultimate job. And I have a great crew here, great employees.
With a general contracting background, you’re skilled in a variety of areas, but how do you describe yourself?
I’m a finish man. Moldings – that’s my forte. I have my Dad’s attention to detail. He was a great mentor – he still is. I miss him.
I know your free time is limited as you learn your new job in new surroundings, but what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My woodshop is back in the Hudson Valley. I have a beautiful garage with the house I’m living in here, now, and maybe I’ll put a woodshop in here.
I have a girlfriend who lives in Rochester.
She speaks a number of languages and is a college professor.
You grew up about six hours away in the Hudson Valley. Had you ever visited this area before?
We used to fish in Olcott when I was younger. We saw Niagara Falls. But I hadn’t been back here in 20 years. Remember the ESLO (Empire State Lake Ontario) Derby? My Dad won that in 1988. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t on that trip. So, I had been to this area, but never thought then that I’d be back here working someday. It’s an exciting adventure.
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