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KATHY KRISKO

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.