DNR @ Work

The Making of a Volunteer NRP Reserve Officer

By: Dennis A. Leventhal, R/O#528
When family and friends hear that I've volunteered to serve as a Natural Resources Police (NRP) Reserve Officer, their reactions vary from outright disbelief to self-choking laughter. Their questions range from, "Do you get to carry a gun?" to "Have you thought about seeing a psychiatrist?"

Volunteering for community service is part of our American cultural heritage. How you express that sense of "giving back" is a matter of personal interest and concern, and varies from person to person.

As a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and a former blue-water seaman, I've always felt strongly about issues of water safety. In fact, I'm fairly vociferous about it. As an old bosun once told me, "Ninety-five percent of good seamanship is safety." (The other five percent seems to be fancy rope-work.) So upon moving permanently to the Eastern Shore (after 25 years' residence in East Asia), and meeting one of the regular NRP officers who introduced me to their reserves program, I thought there was a good fit here.

I'd been coming to the Chesapeake Bay area every summer since 1980 and we bought our first home here in 1983. Each time we came to spend some summer vacation in this place we loved so much, I would engulf myself and family in the wonder and enjoyment of Maryland's natural resources - the beauty of our Chesapeake watershed.

Maryland culture is defined by its waterways. Everyone in this state lives in close proximity either to the Chesapeake Bay or to one of the many rivers, streams, creeks, backwaters and lakes that form the Bay's watershed.

Maryland's signature landscape is riparian, and our lives are lived on, alongside, around and near navigable water. What could be more ideal for someone whose idea of happiness is messing about in boats?

So, what does a Reserve Officer do? We get to teach school kids about the basics of water safety in general, and boating safety equipment in particular. Following appropriate training and certification, we perform Coast Guard-approved vessel safety inspections, and teach boating safety certification courses. We also assist with various promotional activities that support public education in the area of boating and environmental laws and regulations. Occasionally, we are even asked to serve as judges at fishing contests!

The more than 200 Reserve Officers statewide handle a wide variety of functions in volunteer support of Maryland's Natural Resources Police force. By handling a large portion of the educational side of NRP work, they allow the less than 200 "Regulars" to focus more on the enforcement side. Without even considering the savings on State tax expenditures, the benefit to our citizenry is considerable. And it brings personal satisfaction to those of us who choose to volunteer our time. (We are asked to commit to a minimum of 150 hours service per year - although many do much more than that.)

Do we get to carry firearms? No! That's strictly for the trained law enforcement professionals! The point of our involvement is building support to preserve and protect the treasure of the Chesapeake that we share with one another. This is action that goes far beyond putting a "Save the Bay" bumper sticker on your car.

The personal payback for me has been in getting out and about to explore parts of the watershed that I might not otherwise visit, learning more about our local environment through direct observation and the experience of professionals, and maybe even protecting someone from injury through our promotion of boating (and hunting) safety knowledge. And of course, I get to do lots of messing about in boats.

Another benefit comes from the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people. The reserve force itself contains people from many walks of life. I've met firefighters, watermen, aviators, computer experts, homemakers, ex-law enforcement officers, salespeople, engineers, business executives, academics and retired military. Beyond our reserve personnel, the broad recreational boating community expands the circle to include people who have come here from all over America to enjoy Chesapeake living.

I've often thought that two of the most important pillars of civilization are our police and our teachers. The one protects our present, and the other preserves our future. Serving in the NRP Reserves is an opportunity to support both.

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