Ray launched his natural resources career as a teenager in the Maryland Conservation Corps. As a frontline naturalist, his career included stops with the Maryland Park Service, Patuxent and Western Maryland 4-H Centers and Allegany County Board of Education. Ray joined the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Parks and Recreation in 2003, serving in the role of Chief of Environmental Education and Interpretation. He was later promoted to Section Administrator for the Operations, Maintenance and Programming unit. In 2013, he was appointed as only the 8th Director of Delaware State Parks, where he is responsible for managing more than 26,000 acres of park land, more than 700 employees, a $55 million annual budget and stewardship of a billion-dollar asset.
Under Ray’s management, the Delaware State Parks system, administered by the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation, has seen tremendous growth and broken records in various areas, including camping/cabin stays, volunteer hours, park attendance, and revenue. Visitation to Delaware’s 17 state parks has increased by 30% in the last five years, from 6.1 million in 2017 to 7.9 million in 2021 and is up 78% over the last decade. Park user fees generate 70% of the revenue utilized to operate the parks.
A recent economic impact study concluded that out-of-state visitors generate close to $400 million in impact on the Delaware economy thanks to the state park system. Other milestones include the dedication of Delaware’s 17th state park, Auburn Valley, in 2018 and the creation of the division’s first strategic plan in 2020.
Ray has drafted legislation that created millions of dollars in new funding for interpretation, cultural/natural resources, and recreation for not only his division, but other DNREC divisions and state agencies, along with increasing the effectiveness of endowment funds to assist with the financing of physical maintenance and capital improvements at Delaware State Parks and help encourage private investments and donations for the parks. Since 2013, over $140 million has been invested by the division in capital projects and $78 million through the Open Space Program that preserves land in perpetuity for public access.
Ray’s entrepreneurial approach to park management has helped birth many key public-private partnerships including Go Ape at Lums Pond, the Fort Miles Museum, Abessinio Stadium, and the Big Chill Beach Club at Delaware Seashore State Park. His proudest professional accomplishment is starting the highly successful DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation Youth Conservation Corps program.
In 2021, Delaware was selected for its second Gold Medal Award from the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) as the best managed state park system in the country. This recognition makes Delaware only the second state to win the award more than once. Other accolades include winning the 2021 State Park Director of the Year and National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) Conference Distinguished Service Award, given by his peers, the 2019 Public Works Official of the Year for Delaware, along with innovation awards from the and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NASPD for the creation of a new state park out of a contaminated industrial plant.
Ray holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management from Frostburg State University and a master’s degree from Wilmington University in Organizational Leadership. He is currently serving as an adjunct graduate professor at Clemson University and an Honorary Commander for Dover Air Force Base.
He and his wife, Becky, who serves a Spanish teacher at Polytech High School, reside in Frederica, Del. In his spare time, he enjoys paddling, hunting and coaching Pop Warner football.
Ray is honored to join the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administration, following in the footsteps of the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation’s “Pioneer of Preservation,” the late division Director Bill Hopkins.