For almost two decades, Scott Liske, has worked as a ranger, currently assigned to Auburn.
“We work seven days a week, about 14 hours every day,” Liske said. “In summer we have longer shifts. The day is usually determined by what happens or calls for service.”
Four field rangers work at the park, with Scott Liske as supervisor.
Unlike rangers in other states or agencies, California State Park Rangers are considered peace officers, so they function somewhat as a hybrid between a parks specialist and law enforcement officer. Whether it’s crime, fire or other emergencies, the rangers are the first responders to any emergency that takes place in the park.
“If there are no emergencies or calls for service, then we’re on patrol,” Liske said.
Rangers in the California State Parks are there for three main reasons: protecting the park from the people, the people from the park, and people from other people.
Protecting the park from the people
With the abundance of trees at the park, one might think chopping a limb or two for a campfire wouldn’t hurt. But it does — and it’s illegal. One way rangers protect the park for future generations is by patrolling for illegal chopping of trees. They’re also on the lookout for unauthorized or unchecked fires which can be devastating to the forest if allowed to get out of control.
Protecting people from each other
Sparks can also fly with disputes among visitors. When two parties arrive at a campsite at the same time, rangers sometimes get called in to resolve arguments.
Protecting people from the park
Some places in the park offer beautiful views, but also come with dangerous cliffs or slippery rocks. The rangers try to prevent visitors from treading into hazardous areas with barriers and warning signs.
“We want everyone to stay on the safe side of all those areas,” Liske said. “We have a trail system. We want you to stay on the trail.”
Staying out and stay alive
The rangers have aggressively promoted a “Stay out. Stay alive” campaign to warn visitors to not attempt to swim between March and early June, when snowmelt begins to trickle down the Sierra Nevada, amping up the speed while dropping the temperature of the American River.
“Unfortunately a common theme the last few springtimes is people entering the water when they shouldn’t,” Liske said. “And that could be because the water’s fast and cold, and they’re not prepared.”
Visitors who get too close to the water during this time can easily slip. Even in peak physical condition, people can be swiftly carried downstream, while at the same time losing the physical ability to swim due to the drop in temperature.
“All of these fatalities could have been prevented if the people hadn’t gone in the water,” Liske said.
But it’s not just the danger of heights, rocks or rivers that rangers are concerned about. It’s also the other residents who call the park home.
Creatures and critters at the parks
Ticks: According to Liske, ticks are small creatures that have become a big problem in the Auburn park over the last 30 years. During the colder months, ticks are attracted to warmer bodies to hop on to. The black legged tick and deer ticks can carry Lyme disease.
“If you stay on the trails, you have a very good chance of not having any ticks jump onto your clothing,” Liske said.
Liske advises a thorough tick check after any hiking along the trails.
Black bears: Much larger than ticks are black bears, the only species of bears left in California. They can be seen anytime of the day, particularly where human dwellings and the park meet.
“Bears are super industrious,” Liske said. “They want to find the easiest way to get their food.”
If you’re in the park and spot a bear, making noise either through clapping hands or using an air horn may ward off a bear, who usually isn’t looking for a confrontation.
Mountain Lions: Plenty of food and shelter provide a welcoming habitat for mountain lions. However, unlike bears they are rare to spot. Liske said he recalls only seeing three in his career, and he worked with another ranger in Auburn who never saw a single mountain lion in 30 years.
Mountain lions are elusive and tend to only be seen in the part around dawn or dusk. Liske estimates the rangers only get reports of one to two mountain lion sightings a month.
If you encounter a mountain lion, you should attempt to appear larger by opening flaps in your jacket or picking up your bicycle over your head. But don’t attempt to outrun a mountain lion.
“You need to be prepared to fight for your life,” Liske said regard confrontations between humans and mountain lions. Like bears, mountain lions often aren’t looking for a confrontation and will often walk away if spotted by a human. But if it starts acting similar to a house cat ready to pounce on prey, with ears folded back and tail swishing, it is likely preparing for an attack.
The last person killed by an attack in the ASRA was Barbara Schoener in April 1994.
“Dogs can be a rangers’ worst nightmare,” Liske said.
While dogs are supposed to be on a leash at all times in the park, often rangers will find them leash-free, chasing animals and running wildly on trails. Dogs aren’t much of a danger as much as a nuisance — barking, causing commotions and getting lost.
In Jan. 2008, Dewie, a golden retriever, was off leash and fell down a vent from an abandoned mine shaft. Thankfully, the Auburn Fire Department was called out and successfully returned Dewey uninjured from the shaft. The shaft was later filled with foam and featured in an episode of “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe (Season 5, episode 2) which aired Jan. 2009.
Dirty or delightful job?
Whether it’s the smell of fresh earth beneath boots, or the commitment to protecting parks and people, a career as a California State Park Ranger is a calling some may consider.
“Auburn is a great duty assignment,” Liske said. “We have a incredible variety from day to day of what we do.”
Rangers and lifeguards in the California State Parks are considered peace officers, so they must take some of the same training any California peace officer would take, since they’re expected to perform the same duties. In addition, they must complete two years or 60 credit hours worth of college courses. Most of the cadet training takes place at the Butte College Law Enforcement Academy in Oroville.
Liske said the only bad part of the job is that rangers often work when visitors don’t.
“The last fourth of July I had off was 1985,” he said.
While there is no explorer program similar to other law enforcement agencies, ride-alongs are sometimes available. More information about ride-alongs can be found by contacting a park recruiter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junior Lifeguard Program
The California State Parks Junior Lifeguard Program is a way for children to “test the waters” of serving at a California State Park. The program offers four-week training sessions just down the American River at Folsom Lake State Recreational Area.
“It’s a great program,” Liske said. “Kids like it because of the summer fun. They’re learning CPR … first aid. They’re playing outside, playing games and doing physical fitness.”
For information about the Junior Lifeguard Program at Folsom Lake, visit: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=26663 or search the website for “junior lifeguard.” More information about becoming a park ranger in California is available at parkrangeredu.org/california.
CLICK HERE to see the original article and photos from the Auburn Journal newspaper.