State Parks Peace Officer Briana Estes is a K9 handler in the Capital District. We caught up with her during Women’s History Month to reflect on her career and those who helped her along the way.
Tell me about your journey to become a ranger. What inspired you to join the Academy?
When I was growing up and while I wasn’t in sports, I spent much of my time outside frolicking in the woods of New Jersey. Truthfully, I had dreams of becoming a professional athlete. I went to college and ran track at UC Riverside and got my degree in Liberal Studies. It didn’t take very long to realize that maybe I wasn’t the next Allyson Felix and I ought to figure out an alternative career plan. I sought a career that allowed me to use much of my skills I have already developed, helped me feel like I was helping the community around me, and allowed me to spend time outdoors. With the help of google I found the California state park website and started to learn about State Park Peace Officers (Rangers). I saw images of rangers hiking in the mountains, working in the desert, and flying planes and I figured ok, let’s see what this all about! I set up a ride along at Lake Perris SRA where shortly thereafter I was hired as a Park Aide. During that time, I learned much more about California state parks and what Rangers can do and that really excited me. I saw that there is so much park diversity and opportunity out there that whatever kind of ranger you want to be there is a park for you. For me I saw my first K9 Unit (Dipple and Boris) and knew that was what I needed to do and that really set me on the trajectory of academy and beyond.
What’s your favorite part about the job? What are the biggest challenges of the job?
My favorite part about the job is that most days it doesn’t feel like work. I get dressed, patrol with my K9 partner, spend time in some of California’s most beautiful destinations with coworkers that have become my best friends and do things that leave me feeling proud, like I am not only helping to preserve the nature around me but protecting and serving the people who come to visit. Sure, some days you just feel like you lose, you are front seat to some people’s worst days of their life, or worse some days you feel like you are the fun police. I try to turn every contact into a positive experience where I either help change the stereo type of what some of the population believes a law enforcement contact is like, or at the bare minimum educate folks that the reason I am contacting them matters and hopefully they help and become stewards of the park in the future.
What is the professional accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Tricky question. Becoming a K9 handler is a highlight for sure. I think this one is still to be determined though.
What advice would you give to young women and girls who are interested in becoming rangers?
My advice is if this is what you want to do then do it! If there is any doubt or question in your mind as to whether or not you are physically, mentally or emotionally capable of doing this job and being successful you and every other person despite gender also thinks and feels this way entering this field. That fear is unanimously felt and ultimately our presence and representation in this field matters. Your perspective of the world, and your experiences matter. We have so much to offer to our communities and it needs to be shared.
There were some incredible women rangers throughout the history of the California State Parks Department. How did their work pave the way for a more equitable agency?
Besides stating the obvious of the likes of Petey Weaver and such I actually want to shout out some of our more present-day women rangers. I can think of so many women that I have had the great fortune of working with in present day that I on a daily basis look up too, seek advice from, and aspire to be like in this department.
In my short time in the field, I have witnessed some of the best officers I know (who also happen to be women) who are experts (and I mean literal experts in the eyes of the court) in the field as rank and file who promote into higher ranks and positions of leadership. Some of which even find the time to raise families and have children. All of which on-top of all that they have on their plate find the time to help foster other women (such as myself) to also be great too! It’s a real sister hood out here and that is what paves the way for me and gives me the “I can do this” mentality.
Also, special shout out to our women in aquatics. I owe so much of what I have learned on the medical side of the job thanks to the voluntary coaching and leadership from the women on the aquatics side. Some of which literally took me under their wing and showed me everything I know about “lifesaving”. Seasonal and Permanent alike you have given me the gift of confidence in a daunting aspects of “rangering” that is now one of my favorite parts of the job.
What do you think the department, as a whole, can do to advance the careers of women rangers within our agency?
Seek and honor our women in public safety year-round. Share our stories. We are out there, doing excellent work both in the field and from the top. We do it every day and not just in the month of March. Doing so will not only boost the morale of those who deserve that recognition, but also demonstrate to all disciplines within our department that “hey! we can and are doing some really cool stuff!” saving lives when we can and making a change and I think that’s something worth bragging about.
California State Parks’ Cadet Academy Application Period is opening soon! Visit www.parks.ca.gov/jobs to learn more.