Story from Doug Johnson, Communications and Marketing Division
For State Park Peace Officer (SPPO) Megan Sanchez, a ranger assigned to the Auburn State Recreation Area, so far in her career her proudest moment was when she graduated from Basic Visitor Services Training (BVST) 41.
“Specifically, when I was badged by a loved one who had served as an officer as well. It felt as though an important baton was being passed onto me, and now it was my duty to continue the path of public service,” Sanchez said.
Women graduating from the State Park Peace Officer Academy is common now. But that was not always the case. The earliest park “guardians”, “wardens,” and “custodians” acted as fee collectors, restroom cleaners, interpreters, campfire builders, song leaders and trail masters; however, only men could hold the title of “warden.” The term warden was changed to ranger in 1940.
But throughout the history of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, there were some incredible women rangers whose work pave the way for a more equitable agency.
Harriett “Petey” Weaver was unique back in the 1930s. Although she did not bear the official title, eventually Petey’s job functions mirrored those of a state park ranger. She began as an unpaid recreation leader and guide at California Redwood Park, which is now Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in 1929. When she retired in 1950, after 20 summers of service, she carried a deputy ranger badge.
In 1972, Paula Peterson became the first woman officially classified as a State Park Ranger. The duties of park ranger had changed greatly since Petey Weaver’s time. By the 1960s, rangers had taken the role of peace officers, which required training in law enforcement and weapons. Paula Peterson was instrumental in creating the defensive-tactics training program still taught today. She eventually became Chief Ranger for the Monterey District.
Patricia M. Scully became a park ranger in 1974. Ranger Scully was dedicated to the preservation of the environment and the education of park visitors while working for her master’s degree in anthropology and environmental resources. During her patrol at San Mateo Coast State Beaches near Half Moon Bay, Ranger Scully was killed by a drunk driver on May 6, 1976. She became the first California State Park ranger killed on duty by a criminal act, and the second ever woman law-enforcement officer to be killed on duty in California. A portion of State Highway 1 in San Mateo County has been dedicated in her honor.
For women state park rangers today, the efforts of these pioneers are not forgotten.
“When thinking of the women who came before me, I am thankful for their sacrifices and hard work to get us to where we are today,” said Sanchez. “They overcame challenges and adversities far greater than I will ever come across.”
Sanchez started with State Parks in 2013 as a Seasonal Lifeguard I at Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. She worked with the department through her college years at California State University, Chico. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science, she decided she wanted to continue her career with State Parks as a ranger, graduating from BVST 41 in 2018.
“From a young age I have had a profound love for outdoor recreation and state parks, and I knew I wanted to have a career that served others; becoming a ranger checked both those boxes for me,” Sanchez said. “The best part of my job is being able to help others in adverse conditions or circumstances. I believe that as rangers, we are given the opportunity to help change the trajectory of people’s lives; whether that’s through an interpretive walk and talk, an arrest, or life-saving rescue or medical intervention.”
Sanchez believes the department is helping to advance the careers of women rangers by being actively involved in our communities through community policing, Junior Ranger and Junior Lifeguard programs.
“This involvement will help us recruit the next generation. Being a positive example and role model for young girls in our Parks is going to in turn, provide us with future women Rangers,” Sanchez said.
For girls and young women who are interested in becoming rangers, Sanchez gives this advice: “Always believe in yourself. You are far stronger than you think, and you can do hard things.”
Department Note: Please visit LiveTheParksLife.com for information on professional and uniformed positions with State Parks, including peace officer positions. The State Park Peace Officer Cadet Academy opening on XX. We invite you to become a steward of California’s most iconic cultural and natural resources by serving as ranger or lifeguard.