Sadly after two decades of service to the community, the Park Ranger program has been eliminated from the city of Glendale, a victim of the reduced budget enacted last week by the City Council.
I spoke to Russ Hauck, who until last Thursday had been a Glendale Park Ranger since the program started in 1991. The purpose of the Ranger program was three-fold: public safety and law enforcement, resource management and the most important – education. The Rangers would put on interpretive programs in Verdugo Park, Brand Park, Palmer Park and Maple Park, giving talks on anything from weather to wildlife. Sometimes the talks were pre-planned, and other times impromptu, just gathering a group of picnickers together.
Their main focus however was in the schools, teaching mostly urban Glendale elementary school kids about the wonders of nature that surround Glendale in the Hollywood Hills and the Verdugo, San Rafael and San Gabriel Mountains. The kids learned what to do about rattlesnakes, how to ID poison oak, fire prevention and familiarity with the city’s trails.
On the public safety end, Russ told me that the Rangers had a per year average of about a dozen hiker rescues, three or four assists on brush fires, and a whopping 200 arrests, either in the parks or up on the trails. It’s a little scary to think of that aspect no longer being addressed!
Anyway, in 2004 Deukmejian Park opened, and the Rangers moved their headquarters into the old Plouffe House above the park. There they had the ideal setting for a Park Ranger program with a classroom, outdoor amphitheater and hundreds of acres of wilderness in their backyard. The living room of the house was turned into a mini zoo for school field trips, with rattlesnakes, tarantulas and turtles for the kids to gawk at. The Ranger-led hikes there were very popular and the last Summer Solstice Hike a few weeks ago attracted 75 hikers. The evening campfire programs were always filled to capacity with local kids for Ranger talks on Indians, mountain lions and wildfires, punctuated with skits, camp songs, and making S’mores. My daughter Isabel went through the Junior Ranger classes and learned about the animals and geology of the mountains. The grant-funded “Walk on the Wild Side” program brought busloads of South Glendale fourth graders for an all day wilderness experience.
After the Station Fire, the Rangers assessed safety in the mountains and helped with flood prevention. Native trees were recently planted on the burned hillsides and will need care in the future.
All these programs are now gone.
I guiltily asked Russ what could the community have done to save the program. Obviously we could have shown up at the recent budget talks and pitched for saving the program. But he told me this is just the direction things are going right now. He told me it’s part of a nationwide trend of de-funding parks and associated programs. Russ said everyone wants parks but no one wants to pay for them.
Well, here’s where that trend takes us: It’s going to get worse before it gets better and we could very easily see park closures next. It will be up to us to show an interest in keeping our parks functioning through our involvement and the expansion of volunteer efforts. We’ll have to take responsibility ourselves for trail maintenance, tree watering and giving our youth an outdoor education. Fortunately, many in CV already do this, as we are by nature a community of volunteers.
But what’s next for former Ranger Russ? He’ll be fulfilling a dream he’s had for years of becoming a middle school science teacher. In the meantime, he’ll create a website where he’ll offer the same outdoor info for kids he has for the last 20 years – “RangerRusty.com” will be up soon and you’ll be able to contact him there.
So goodbye, Glendale Park Rangers. I enjoyed our time together and I hope in better economic times the program will be revived.