Not far from Hollister, California, ACE has partnered with Pinnacles National Park to host a “Ranger Corps” Program. The initiative started in 2009 and is one of the few of its kind. Pinnacles National Park currently has four Ranger Corps members, Elijah Valladarez, Alex Diaz, Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo. All of the members are local youth (ages 18-25) who will complete 300 hours in the park over their weekends assisting park professionals and learning about the National Parks Service.
“I like that I have been able to work in my community and this experience has taught me to really appreciate the area that I grew up in,” explained Alex Diaz, Soledad resident. The program runs on the weekends and aims to mentor the interns in different directions through working closely with the park’s rangers and other ACE members participating at Pinnacles.
Elijah Valladaraz is studying criminal justice and explained, “since I am interested in law enforcement the park does its best to get me around the park’s security rangers.” Alex Diaz expressed a similar point, that he was focusing on botany in school and gets to go out and work with the park’s vegetation and restoration team.
Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo are both in their senior year of high school. Conner is hoping to study something along the lines of geology in college. “This position has improved my social skills but it has also taught me a lot about basic geology and plants and has improved my overall mood,” explained Conner, “the highlight for me is waking up each morning and being in a National Park and being able to work outside, whether that is assisting the vegetation and condor crews, or just helping park incoming visitors.”
Paul Mondragon is a part time Park Ranger and runs the program in the park on the weekends. Paul expressed his dedication to the program and stated, “I like seeing the kids grow and become more comfortable talking with the people who come to visit the park.” Paul has been working with the program for the last five years and works closely with the corps members.
The Ranger Corps also provides CPR and first aid training in addition to the hands on experience of working in the National Park. The program aims to open doors for the local youth into the world of environmental stewardship.