A Marina Makeover

The new marina at Sampson State Park on Seneca Lake.
by David Diehl

With the Sampson State Park Marina, Sessler Companies has certainly taken on a project that is the opposite of demolition. The third generation, family-owned company signed on to revamp and rebuild a state treasure, located on the site of a former World War II naval training station. They used their skills to clear out what remained from the original marina, built more than 60 years ago, and then gave it a complete makeover.

“The Sessler family has always lived in this area. We are avid boaters and much of our family and many of our employees live near and around the lakes,” explains Jane Sessler Shaffer, company co-owner along with brothers Craig and Vern Sessler. “Growing up, as a family with our parents, we visited Sampson State Park all the time for boating and recreation. Over the years, the marina fell into disrepair. We had a personal connection to the area, and wanted to see what we could do to restore it.

“And we take a lot of pride in what we have accomplished, not just our family, but our employees, and everybody in the community that goes there. We believe we have built one of the premier marinas in the Northeast,” said Vern Sessler.


The company was founded in 1958 by Vern Sessler and his wife Barb, who were 19 years old. The couple began by digging basements with an attention-getting pink backhoe, which is proudly parked on the front lawn of Sessler headquarters.

Sessler Wrecking works primarily in the Northeast, but has stretched its services as far west as Detroit and as far south as North Carolina, offering demolition services for bridges and buildings, both commercial and industrial. “We will go wherever the projects suit our talents,” explains Vern.

The company has also branched out with subsidiaries specializing in environmental services, real estate, equipment and, most recently, marinas and camping – a division called SamSen. Currently the division is working on a master plan to revamp the Seneca Lake State Park marina.


The Sessler team went in and dredged the bottom of the Sampson marina and hauled out thousands of dump trucks full of muck and debris. Their goal was to make it deeper to accommodate new boat styles, including sailboats that have deep keels. The dredging took it from 2.5 feet to 6 and 7 feet deep in its entirety.

Bruce Sherman, Sessler’s director of development and public relations, is often asked if anything was discovered hidden beneath the water – relics, military explosives, a body perhaps?

Not so much. But plenty of fish.

“There’s an entrance channel that goes out to the lake; we put a sheeting wall across it and then dewatered it with our large diesel pumps,” Bruce explained.


Along with the new fully revamped marina – which includes 91 slips, a redesigned boat launch ramp, sport ports for jet skis and kayaks, water and utilities, a fuel station, and a pump station, Sessler also provided fully hooked-up amenities for park-goers, seasonal inhabitants, boat owners, and passers-by. Twenty fully loaded cabins with electric, utilities, and water; public and private bathrooms, showers and laundry rooms are expected to open by Memorial Day this year. Plans call for 73 RV slips, both seasonal and transient, and a Ship Store that sells boating essentials.

“State parks often use private companies as concessionaires to run their golf courses or restaurants,” explained Bruce. “Marinas are a new venture for them. Not only were they asking a respondent to come in and take over the operations of the marinas, they were also offering land within the park to provide additional amenities for the marinas.”

“The parks have been a fantastic partner,” says Vern Sessler, Jr., company co-owner. “They have been great to work with right from the regional director to local park managers. As a result, we’ve been able to get a lot of good things done quickly. We signed our agreement in the fall of ’18 and started the marina rebuild, which we completed in the summer of ’19. Ground has been broken for the new Ship Store and the other amenities, slated to be completed in the spring of ’20.”

Support for the project has come from Assemblyman Philip A. Palmesano, Senator Pat Helming, and the Friends of Sampson State Park and Marina.

“The Friends of Sampson, a private nonprofit group, advocated the state to put more resources into the park,” Bruce noted. “We engaged their marina subcommittee quite regularly. We met with them, had picnics with them, and were attentive to their needs. During the design of the marina, their recommendations were instrumental in the final product.”

“It’s fair to say that he was the one who spearheaded this project,” recalled Jane. “He came to us with the idea. He is the one who saw the RFP and said we should do it. “He got excited. Beaming with pride, he convinced us. And he took the helm. He might be at Sampson right now.”

“We felt that revitalizing the Sampson State Park Marina was an opportunity to give back,” Vern Jr. concludes. “It’s a place that we spent our whole lives going to. Now future generations can. I think because we are there for the right reason and we work the right way, this worked out really well.” 

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