INTERVIEW WITH A PARK RANGER – SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS
Welcome to the first installment of our new Interview with a Park Ranger series! Through all our years of exploring local, state and national parks, we’ve really come to appreciate all that Park Rangers do to maintain and advocate for our public lands. They might be experts in biology, sociology or the physical sciences and put those skills to work in their park. Or, they can be responsible for public safety and law enforcement in the parks. Regardless, they are typically interacting with the general public (that’s all of us!), and helping us safely navigate our beautiful public lands while teaching us a little about what makes each place so special.
Park Rangers have diverse backgrounds and experiences that they bring to their particular jobs and we’re hoping to learn more about what makes Park Rangers tick as well get some real insight into the Parks they call home. We will be spotlighting parks from around the country, starting with some of our personal favorites but hope to eventually get to every National Park in the United States and anything in-between! Please feel free to suggest your favorite park in the comments.
To kick off our series, we are starting with our very own Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). In the “backyard” of Los Angeles, sits over 500 miles of trails, diverse wildlife and, in our opinion, some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. We have always enjoyed hiking locally, but during the past year of “lockdown” we were able to truly explore more of what our closest park has to offer.
We reached out to the Park and were happy to be connected with Ranger Ana who came to her “Ranger Life” after a fascinating career in journalism. Her love for the outdoors drew her to a career as a Park Ranger and here she shares her story and that of SMMNRA with us all!
Interview with a Park Ranger #01
Featured Park: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA)
Featured Park Ranger: Ana Beatriz Cholo
Where are you from and how long have you been a Park Ranger?
Reply: I have worked for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for a little over three years. I became a park ranger later in life! Before this, I worked as a news reporter (LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press) and I also did political advocacy work.
What brought you to Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area and what is unique about the park’s natural features?
Reply: This park is special for so many reasons!
We are the largest urban national park in the world. The recreation area encompasses more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Although we are a unit of the National Park Service, this is not the kind of national park where you pay a fee and go through a gate. This is a national recreation area comprised of a network of local, state, and federal parks interwoven with private lands and surrounded by urban communities. Think of it as a patchwork quilt!
As a recreation area, we emphasize activities for visitors. Here in the Santa Monica Mountains, you can almost do it all! Visitors can hike, bike, horseback ride, camp, swim and surf, kayak and check out all of the incredible wildlife that exists.
This protected area is also one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems within the world and it contains a rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities.
What are the best times of year to visit?
Reply: This is sunny Southern California, so you’ll find that the weather is great any time of the year. The summers, however, can get pretty hot so it’s always a good idea to hike in the morning or later in the day as it starts to cool off. Try to avoid hiking in the middle of the day in summer months!
What’s your favorite hike and why?
Reply: That’s a tough question! There are so many hikes to choose from, but I think my favorite is Sandstone Peak. At 3,111 ft. elevation, this is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains! To get to the top, you can do a three-mile hike from Sandstone Peak trailhead or you can take the long way from the Mishe Mokwa trailhead close by.
What’s your favorite hike for a family with smaller children?
Reply: A good short hike for younger kiddos is at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. There’s free two-hour parking at the Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center. You can start from there and meander through the grounds, which include a Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion and other structures that were part of the original estate for King C. Gillette, co-founder of the Gillette Safety Razor Company. It’s beautiful!
The one-mile trek to Inspiration Point has a bit of a steep hill at the beginning, but you can take it slow. The top features a nice 360-degree view of the area, which includes Malibu Creek State Park across the road.
What should visitors bring with them to be prepared for exploring the park?
Reply: This depends on what you’re doing. If you’re planning on a long hike, for example, please bring the 10 essentials with you. This includes water, food, a headlamp, map or navigation device, sun protection, a first-aid kit and emergency shelter. For shorter hikes, bring water, snacks and a map, at the very least!
Can you tell us a bit about the flora and fauna in the SMMRA? What wild animals and trees/plants call the Santa Monica Mountains home?
Reply: This protected area is one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems within the world and it contains a rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. The Santa Monica Mountains are home to 12 vegetation communities, which are derived from the 26 vegetation associations. These include coastal salt marsh, coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, coast live oak woodland, riparian woodland, valley grassland, valley oak savanna and freshwater ponds/lakes.
As for animals, there are many kinds of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mammals, including deer, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, gophers, squirrels, and two kinds of rabbits!
Here’s a really cool factoid – we are one of only two megacities in the world that have big cats living in our midst. Yes, we have a small mountain lion population here!
Have you had any wildfires recently and what has been the cause?
Reply: The Woolsey Fire swept through the area in November 2018 and it destroyed 88% of federal park lands and about 47% of the recreation area. We are still recovering from the effects of that fire. Unfortunately, it burned Western Town located at Paramount Ranch, one of our most popular sites. Western Town has been a working film set since 1927 and it’s the only site of its kind in the National Park Service. We are reimagining what its future will look like. Plans are currently underway to rebuild it in the very near future so stay tuned!
What can visitors do to protect the park and enjoy it responsibly?
Reply: Pack it in, pack it out! Please observe “leave no trace” principles and don’t litter! Also, be respectful of other visitors enjoying the park. Observe trail etiquette whether hiking, biking or horseback riding. Also, we ask that visitors please wear a mask while on trails and that they #recreateresponsibly.
What is your favorite part about being a Park Ranger?
Reply: My favorite part of being a park ranger is that I can share my love of the outdoors with the public in creative ways. I have a really fun job!
Does SMMRA have a Junior Ranger program and how can young rangers earn their badge?
Reply: Yes, we have a Junior Ranger program! Please visit our website here to learn more. We also created a bunch of fun virtual programs for children (and adults) as part of our SAMO at Home series. Last year, we even held a Junior Ranger “Summer Camp.”
That’s a wrap…….
That’s it for our first Park Ranger interview. We hope you gained some valuable insight on the life of a Park Ranger in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and that you’ve learned a bit more about what makes this park so special.
We’re working on our next interview and are looking forward to sharing that with you soon so check back often!