Mt. Tamalpais, Diversity and Staff Engagement.

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I recently spent time on Mt Tamalpais with Ranger Matt Cerkel with the Marin Municipal Water District. I wanted to get a different perspective of the mountain and his opinion on matters of diversity in outdoor spaces.

I have made countless trips to Mt. Tam and very seldom would I see people of color. This too was once a reality for Matt, but he is starting to see a change, more families of color are out on the trails, especially along Cataract Falls, a popular waterfall hike on Mt Tam

As Matt and I patrolled the mountain, it became very clear to me just how much pride Matt takes in his job. I felt his viewpoints were that of an ambassador, as he talked about his day to day interactions with the public and the environment.

Matt, what is the most satisfying part of your job? I love sharing my passion for the park with others.  I’ve spent over 20 years, so far, protecting Mount Tam and I want to share what I’ve learned in that time.

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Matt, in your opinion, what can state parks do to draw more diverse families to Mt. Tam?

While I don’t work for the State Parks I have a few ideas based on my 25 years in the parks profession and the observations I’ve made in that time. First I think state parks should make sure that fees for day use and camping do not price some families out of the parks.  Maybe they should also establish several fee free weekends a year to encourage new visitors to the parks.

State parks should also partner with city, county and other local park agencies, especially where there is little or no state park presence, to let the public know what state parks can offer them.  This could be part of a larger outreach program to reach  all Californians.  State parks could follow the lead of GGNRA/GGNPC and have Roving Ranger Stations http://www.parksconservancy.org/learn/roving-ranger/ These Roving Rangers Stations could be sent to community events, fairs, farmers markets, etc. and bring the state parks to the people.  State parks could also learn from New York City’s Urban Park Rangers who have a very successful outreach program, including camping with the ranger program http://www.nycgovparks.org/programs/rangers/explorer-programs.  State parks could also continue and expand their Hewlett-Packard grant program of bringing youth from urban and undeserved schools to state parks for day use and overnight activities.  State parks could also partner with REI or another outdoor equipment vendor to have camping or outdoor gear available to rent at low cost for those who might not have the proper gear and/or are new to the parks.  The state parks through podcasts and in park events could also have staff teach outdoor ethics (along the lines of Leave No Trace-Outdoor Ethics) to new visitors.

I also think state parks should make an effort to get their rangers and other uniformed employees out of their vehicles and on to the trails and into the campground to be available to the public and help them enhance the visitors experience.  A real effort should be undertaken to improve customer service
http://parkleaders.com/visitor-experience/  The move the state park is considering to a park police model is likely a move in the wrong direction. Visitors want park rangers who can keep them feel safe and protect the park, but they also want park rangers that are approachable, friendly and knowledgeable.  A move to a park police model or rangers who will only do “law enforcement” may actually create barriers.  I’ve been a park ranger-peace officer for 20 years and it is possible to be both a professional law enforcement officer and approachable, friendly and knowledgeable, uniformed representatives of the park.

Finally, state parks should reform their  hiring practices and view their seasonal positions as a stepping stone to permanent positions. They should also reach out to high schools and college students statewide to recruit for seasonal and permanent positions to help create a diverse workforce that represents the state and its people.  Young people of all backgrounds should see state parks (and other parks) as a desirable place to work or have a career.

Matt, what would you like to share about the watershed that the general public is not aware of?

What I like people to know about the MMWD’s Mount Tamalpais Watershed is how it played a key role to shaping all future land preservation and park formation in Marin County.  The Mount Tamalpais Watershed is the keystone for all land preservation in Marin.  Marin would be a very different place today if MMWD didn’t act 100 years ago to preserve and protect Mount Tam.

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Having shared the park through the eyes of a ranger, I now have a different appreciation for the beauty of this place. I encourage everyone to hike the trails and take time out to chat with the park staff as you happen upon them. I’m sure you’ll walk away with a different impression as well.

Thanks Matt.

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