She commutes to work by walking out her front
door. Her office is the ground beneath her feet,
the green rolling hills around her, and blue sky
above. Kathy Krisko is a national park service
ranger who lives on park grounds in the Santa
Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
There are nearly 400 national parks and recreation
areas in the U.S. Our local Santa Monica Mountain
parks include a patchwork of state, federal, and
county lands, more than 200,000 acres extending
from Santa Monica to Zuma Beach. Kathy, who has
been working at the park for the last 3½ years,
describes the park as a Mediterranean ecosystem,
and one of the largest “open-space” urban parks
in the United States. There are certainly grander
parks, like Yosemite or Yellowstone. But none
of these more famous parks are close to major
cities. Just minutes from your doorstep, in Calabasas,
Agoura, Thousand Oaks, or Malibu, there are hundreds
of miles of trails to hike, to mountain bike,
or traverse by horseback. There are camping and
picnic areas scattered through the hills, alongside
exotic streams and waterfalls. And Santa Monica
is one of the few national parks that allow mountain
biking and walking dogs on trails.
Ranger Krisko was bred in the national parks
and the outdoors. Her father was a National Park
Service ranger who took his family from homes
in Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves Park, to Death Valley,
to Yosemite. Aiming for a similar career, Kathy
earned her masters degree in “multi-resource management,”
the study of how to manage land for multiple purposes,
from Northern Arizona University.
Park rangers are usually assigned special duties.
Some do “protection” or law enforcement, others
are “interpretative” rangers who educate the public,
and some are “resource managers.” Kathy, an attractive
woman in her mid-thirties, wears a ranger’s green
uniform and carries a sidearm. She is a “protection”
ranger, a federal law enforcement officer. The
park, of course, is home to mountain lions, coyotes,
bobcats, and snakes. “But people,” she says, “are
more dangerous than any animal.”
Working her beat through the huge park on foot,
on horseback, or driving an all terrain vehicle,
her nemeses include drug dealers, vandals, and
drunks. And in a park that borders LA there are
plenty of unnatural things to be found off nature’s
trails - fields of marijuana, drug labs, toxic
trash, and stolen cars.
The Santa Monica Mountains were home to the
Chumash and Gabrielno Indians for a thousand years.
Then came the Spanish missionaries and ranchers.
As our cities grow and housing projects and shopping
malls gobble up green space, it is nice to know
that much of the hills that taper to the Pacific
will forever be public recreation land.
Kathy Krisko has the job of protecting these
lands. For most of us the land is there for a
hike in the woods or a picnic. For Kathy, the
land is also her home. She says the question most
frequently asked of her is the same as people
ask entering anyone’s home: “Where are the bathrooms?”
Just in hers she’ll remind you to keep an eye
out for the snakes.