Grant Melville’s job is a dream come true

Superintendent calls Cape Henlopen State Park home
July 3, 2018

Grant Melville lives in Cape Henlopen State Park. It's one of the perks the park superintendent enjoys, and he exploits it to the fullest.

Riding his bike to the fishing pier to watch the sunset, hiking out to the point or walking through the park on a snowy day, are special moments just outside his door. Now, his summer is filled to overflowing, but he's not complaining. Melville has parlayed his love for the outdoors and for the environment into a dream job – exactly where he set his course as a child. “This park is the gold standard,” he said. “For someone who truly loves the environment, this is the perfect place.”

It's also the busiest park in the state with more than 1.5 million visitors each year.

Melville was assistant superintendent at Indian River Marina in Delaware Seashore State Park from July 2015 to June 2016 and then served as Cape Henlopen State Park manager from June 2016 to January 2018. He was appointed park superintendent in January.

As park superintendent, he oversees maintenance, projects and stewardship. He also makes a point of getting out from behind his desk as much as possible to interact with visitors and vendors. Melville also oversees many of the 100 people who work at the park during the summer. That number drops to 15 starting in the fall.

What other state park, he asks, offers what Cape has to offer – more than 4 miles of swimming beach, 5,000 acres of land, biking and hiking trails, camping, a fishing pier where a German submarine surrendered in 1945, and underground bunkers dating back to World War II.

Melville said his love for the environment was fostered during camping trips with his brother and an uncle and aunt throughout his childhood. He followed that up working summers at YMCA Camp Tockwogh on the Chesapeake Bay. Although he's just 32 years old, Melville already has a long resume that includes jobs on both coasts of the United States.

Growing up in Chichester, Pa., he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 with a degree in environmental studies. After graduation, he spent a busy year working for AmeriCorps, doing fire habitat restoration work in San Diego, Calif., before getting assigned to the New Orleans area.

In New Orleans, he worked for six months with Habitat for Humanity to build new houses for Hurricane Katrina victims, living in New Orleans’ St. Bernard Parish with 2,000 other volunteers in Camp Hope at an elementary school. His expertise was working on exteriors, doing windows, doors and siding.

Next he worked with the Orleans Parish Parks and Recreation Department, where he helped remove invasive plants. “You wouldn't think of it, but seeds from invasive plants were spread throughout parks during the flood. Once the waters receded, they started growing,” he said.

Then came what he still calls the experience of a lifetime: He hand-raised rare Mississippi sandhill cranes. “I wore a gray costume and became their momma crane,” he said.

Still another job gave him an opportunity to see the United States. As a tour guide with Trek America in 2009, he drove international tourists from New York to Los Angeles on two-, three- or four-week trips, camping at as many national parks as possible along the way.

After taking a little time off, in 2012, he got a job as special programs assistant at Wallops Island, Va., where he supervised adult and family programming and the Road Scholar program. Along the way, he also worked at the Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art in Salisbury as volunteer and education coordinator, and served as commissioner for the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism.

Planning is ongoing process

To keep up with the demand for services in the popular park, planning never stops. Melville said park officials recently unveiled a plan to increase trail mileage in the park from 13 miles to 31 miles. The park is home to the popular Gordons Pond Trail that begins just outside Rehoboth Beach and is part of a loop that nearly reaches  Lewes. “I would love to see a trail to the point so people don't have to get there walking on the road,” he said.

Melville said he's learned a few lessons along the way.

The park recently underwent a $4 million modernization of its campground. Not everyone was happy with the changes, he said, but most campers are starting to adjust.

“Someone told me that the only things that like change are vending machines and babies,” he said. “We have to cater to every type of camper, and we weren't doing that; now we are.”

Melville said the park staff and volunteers – including Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park and the Fort Miles Historical Association – work together to create that gold standard. “I'm not quiet about bragging to everyone that this is a world-class state park,” Melville said. “I'm always in awe of this park.”

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  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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