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Profile: Todd Cochran

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor

Todd Cochran at the Ramapo Valley County Reservation (4000 acres) in Mahwah, NJ. The Colorado Blue Spruces behind the Jeep are ones that he planted as seedlings circa 1983-84. The Dept. of Parks had a nursery at the Wildlife Center in Wyckoff, NJ which is now the James A. McFaul Environmental Center. Nursery stock from the entry was used throughout the parks system.
Photos Courtesy of Todd Cochran

Todd Cochran was hired by Bergen County in 1983 as Assistant Park Naturalist, then promoted to Park Naturalist, then promoted to Park Supervisor, then promoted to Assistant County Park Manager, then promoted again to County Park Manager. Now, big surprise, he is the Bergen County, New Jersey Assistant County Park Superintendent. In addition--no surprise, again--he has also been the Resident Superintendent at Ramapo Valley Reservation since 1991.

"The fact that this job is a multifaceted position is what keeps it interesting," says Cochran, who got his B.S. in biology from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and did graduate course work in Terrestrial Plant Ecology at the University of Virginia. "Our department has 9000 acres and 20 different facilities from a zoo with a miniature railroad carousel, some primarily athletic facilities, some floor corridors with cookie cutter parks, such as a six mile linear park with ball fields, picnic grounds and various gardens. Everything is always in a state of flux."

The Canada goose management program, using border collies, was introduced to the Department of Parks by Cochran who has been called upon as a consultant by numerous jurisdictions. He has written, spoken and appeared on cable and network television regarding Canada goose management.

They are either dredging, fixing comfort stations, improving process, acquiring equipment or handling personnel matters, which is very interesting and quite rewarding. He's not chained to a desk, but he's not that stereotypic park ranger that's from 1950s TV shows, either, what with all the challenges of administration plus the added challenge of staying connected to the recreational aspects of his parks and the natural outdoor elements as well.

"Sometimes young people who are entering or just leaving college want to get a job in parks outdoors, but they have these misconceptions about what exactly that entails. It's not junior summer independent study," says Cochran. "To work in parks you have to show up Monday morning, cut grass, clean up garbage, and maintain restrooms--just for starters."

Cochran coordinated the shoreline restoration of Scarlet Oak Pond through a grant to Ramapo College. The project was designed by TRC Omni Environmental. He also arranged for private funding of trout stocking of Scarlet Oak Pond and MacMillan Reservoir.

The park maintenance staff maintains 90 full time staffers for Bergen County, which also includes golf course maintenance. That includes mechanics, greens keepers and groundskeepers. If a particular problem is beyond the expertise of their regular people, they lean on golf people and Rutgers' University Cooperative Extension. In addition, they also have office staff in the administration building.

In Bergen County, over the past few years they've developed a full series of winter in-house training for the staff that's taught by faculty and staff from Rutgers University. They also invite other experts to share their knowledge in tree care, turf care and Best Management Practices. Toward the end of each series, they solicit input from the staff. The staff can also suggest training programs that they'd like to be given.

Along with a strong working relationship with New Jersey Fish & Game Law Enforcement Division and with the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, Cochran collaborates with the Trails Supervisor regarding trail network maintenance and development and with the cartographer regarding production of the Department of Parks brochures and trail maps. He has led groups on interpretive hikes for 10 years as well as the Hike for Open Space.

Cochran likes to suggest things to his staff by saying, "Remember Rutgers." What's most important is communication. "I've found this works better," says Cochran. "If you have smaller budgets or minimal staff, you need to do more with less to maintain the best quality of service. Remember, everyone has the same challenges."

The best results he's seen are those that have been delivered through this kind of networking, and his staff is definitely getting the work done, and done very well. Says Cochran, "The most important thing you can do is network. Be active in an organization. Surround yourselves with knowledgeable likeminded people."

In addition to being a Certified Playground Safety Inspector by National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI), Cochran is also a member of the New Jersey Recreation & Park Association, State & Bergen County, Passaic and the Hudson Chapter.

Growing up, Cochran loved the outdoors. He was one of those kids who want to be park rangers, do good things in a great environment. But once he got into college, he realized it needed a bit more than just loving nature. He got his Bachelor of Science in biology, horticulture and plant ecology and during the summers he worked with a landscape design/build firm that also had a nursery.

Then he had a wonderful opportunity. He briefly worked with the Department of the Interior, working on government owned lands. The program is now defunct. "It was called the Young Adult Conservation Corps," says Cochran. "You timed out at 23 years. But the wonderful part was that young people up to that age were doing conservation work on public land. We did erosion control projects, assembling picnic tables for pine plantations on government bases such as McGuire Airforce Base. It was a great introduction to forest land management." Cochran helped manage those until he was given an opportunity with the parks department and he's been there ever since 1983.

Awarded a grant for creating colored, topographic trail maps for posting and brochures for the Camp Gaw and Ramapo Reservations, Cochran also conceived the Schuber Trail and coordinated the layout of the route, volunteer construction, blazing and publicity. He developed and implemented a Carry in-Carry out program and policy at both reservations for trash removal, which was funded by private sector donations.

Along with everything else that goes into the job, Cochran has provided numerous articles and interviews for newspapers, newsletters and trade magazines. He has presented seminars to grounds and facilities professionals on topics from team building and productivity to hands-on instruction for equipment operation. He was a contributing author for the 2006 Bergen County Parks Directory, a 132 page comprehensive guide. He has also instituted some surprisingly efficient innovations such as hiring a head lifeguard with Certified Instructor credentials to keep all the other life guards current and have the ability to train and certify in-house.

"The most important thing you can do is network. Be active in an organization. Surround yourselves with knowledgeable, likeminded people."

At one point, Cochran had a Canada goose management situation, and at the time he was managing Arlington County with a lot of sand beaches. Of those, there was a 19-acre lake and two or three acre lakes for swimming. Canada geese have always liked the man made lake water better, and since Cochran is a strong proponent of Integrated Pest Management, (IPM,) he used every technique and resource available to get rid of them. One of his colleagues told him about border collies that were being used at the local country club. They decided to purchase one who still lives with him now. The dog's name is Jack.

A former member of the Township of Mahwah Recreation Committee Cochran is on the Recreational Facilities Planning Committee as well.

Of course, Cochran is a Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) (Certification number 56, by PGMS). One of the things to which he credits his ability to get things done is his association with PGMS. "People need to find out what organizations are a good fit with them, because that's how people become knowledgeable," says Cochran. "The information exchange is of incalculable value." If they offer certification, that's an even bigger plus. PGMS has had a large impact on him personally and on how he does business as well. He tries to be as active as he can, because, "That's where you get your answers."

Says Cochran, "If I have a question, in one hour I can get answers from people across the country. I can post a question on the internet site, which is a member benefit. Whether it's a local meeting or a national conference, if I walk away with just one little piece of information, it was well worth it."

Awards, Honors & Contributions

  • County Executive's Distinguished Achievement Award 1996 & 2005
  • Employee of the Quarter 1993
  • Named Person of the Year 3 consecutive years by Bergen Bass Masters for work related to Annual Fishing Outing for the Disabled.
  • Conservationist Award from Friends of Glen Gray 2005
  • Member and Past President of Professional Grounds Management Society, a national organization of 1200 of the country's top institutional grounds managers.
  • Honorary member New Jersey Search and Rescue - participates in missions on parklands.
  • New Jersey Forest Fire Service Special District Warden & crewmember.
  • Former member and Vice Chairman of Twp. of Mahwah Environmental Commission.
  • Liaison between Friends of Glen Gray and Dept. of Parks

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December 9, 2019, 10:49 am PDT

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