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K-9 Teams Maintain Proficiency During COVID-19 Pandemic


By: Daniel Grant, San Luis Obispo Coast District
During the past year, all of us have adapted to numerous changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our department's 20 K-9 teams spread over the state have been no exception.
Back in March 2020, our K-9 teams cross-trained in explosives detection were attending what had become an annual training event called Hounds at Hearst Castle. Hounds at Hearst Castle is a three-day training event where real-world scenarios are set up at Hearst Castle for explosives-detection K-9 teams—from our own agency and many other local, state and federal agencies—to test their skills. Just as we closed out the event, the pandemic was heating up, and if it had been a week later, the training event would have surely been canceled.
As the pandemic raged on, our K-9 teams were faced with the challenge of continuing to answer K-9 calls for service in the field and maintaining the minimum number of training hours mandated by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), while also adhering to COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Our K-9 teams typically attend multiple monthly K-9 training sessions with our department's trainer. Each training is hosted by a different handler, so the locations rotate with each handler in the various districts across the state.
K-9 handlers do a fair amount of traveling for both training and assignments inside and outside our parks. In non-pandemic times, our K-9 teams help out with multiple special events each year, such as large concerts, university commencement ceremonies, off-highway vehicle races and more. The decision was made that our teams would be allowed to do essential travel to trainings because each K-9 team is required to train a minimum of 16 hours per month for patrol and eight hours per month for detection (explosives or narcotics). 
It was strange and a bit unnerving traveling on mostly empty highways and staying in hotels sparsely occupied, but we limited this essential travel as much as we could by having our teams stay closer to home: Teams based in Northern California trained near Sacramento and teams in Southern California stayed south of Ventura. Also, our teams in the central area of the state near San Luis Obispo hosted a few trainings over the summer to keep their travel to a minimum.
Our K-9 teams maintained their proficiency and adapted to the world of social distancing. Normally, at K-9 training we work closely with one another out of necessity as we're conducting building and open area searches. Our backup officers naturally are in close quarters, and working with the dogs is physical work where we need to be nimble and able to observe our surroundings. You can do this work while wearing a mask, but it's an added element of difficulty.
K-9 teams must qualify every year in various disciplines to meet POST-mandated guidelines. These include obedience, tracking, handler protection and detection. Throughout all these disciplines, the handler must be able to read their dog's behavior to know what the dog is communicating nonverbally and be able to exercise control over their dog. Normally, annual K-9 qualifications are a three-day event with all our teams converging on a central location, but in 2020, to maintain social distancing and keep travel to a minimum, we held regional qualifications. 
One other big change for us in 2020 occurred in the summer when we began a relationship with a new trainer: The state K-9 training contract went to Top Dog, out of Modesto. It's been an adjustment working with K-9 trainers new to all of us, but we've been honing our skills while developing a solid working relationship. Many of our handlers have been reenergized working with a new trainer and taking on new training challenges that hopefully translate to higher competency and capability in the field. 
All of us are thankful that COVID-19 vaccination rates are up and positive case rates are down. We hope those trends continue, and we'll be converging upon Monterey County this spring to complete our annual qualifications, which should be a positive team-building experience. Perhaps later this year, some special events will begin to occur again. In the meantime, our K-9 teams will continue training regularly and be ready to handle the increased visitation as things begin to reopen.


Planting the Seed for a Lifelong Relationship With Nature


This is part th
ree of a four-part series exploring innovative approaches by Parks California to increase access to California’s state parks. As a statutory partner, Parks California has a simple mission: to help strengthen parks and inspire all to experience these extraordinary places.
By: Myrian Solis Coronel, Director of Community Engagement, Parks California
Most of us hold a unique and special way of connecting with nature, and often this connection takes place in a variety of settings, including neighborhood, state or destination parks. In these places, for some, nature might be the peace they seek from the hustle and bustle of the city. For others, it might the family memories in parks that we treasure.
As we continue to virtually meet with park staff and partners, we have learned about innovative, people-centered approaches for providing access to state parks. By focusing on people, we find genuine community engagement and dialogue, which opens doors and enriches the lives of everyone involved. Here are a few examples of the programs  that inspire us:
  • State parks such as Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (SRA) are critical to the health of nearby communities and the state as a whole. Over the decades, numerous nonprofits have made contributions to the park, yet no single organization has been able undertake meeting its various needs. For this reason, the Candlestick Point SRA Partner Working Group was formed. The goal of the working group is to bring vested parties together, leverage resources for a stronger impact and design a sustainable path for a local park support entity. The working group will consult with the park’s staff and ensure alignment with the needs of the community and resources of the park. Parks California, along with the rest of our Candlestick Point SRA Partner Working Group partners, are excited to support the Candlestick Point SRA state team and soon welcome back the community of Bayview Hunters Point to the park.
  • Parks are often seen as community hubs, embracing multiple community needs. We see this in Los Angeles State Historic Park where the Los Angeles River Park Partners are working toward hosting a farmers market at the park. Not only will the farmers market offer fresh produce, but they will also offer learning opportunities, engage new park visitors through park programs and remind visitors that parks are a place of gathering. While the proposed project is still in process with California State Parks, we are excited to be an early supporter of this vision.
  • Lastly, nearby nature is as critical as state parks. In many communities, nearby nature is what offers the daily vitamin D boost and access to fresh air. Studies have shown that when people have access to nearby nature, they are more likely to explore other parks and foster a lifelong connection with nature. For this reason, we are thrilled to shed light on the Statewide Park Program and its community-based planning approach through storytelling. These investments have a lasting impact on people, communities and the state.
With a shared vision and passion for California’s extraordinary state park system, together we hope to contribute to the health and well-being of California’s communities and the long-term health of our park system—from visitor experience to natural resource protection.


COVID-19 Information:

By: Communications and Marketing Division
Effective, June 15, Governor Gavin Newsom eliminated restrictions that have been in place over the past year, including physical distancing, capacity limits, county tier systems and masks in almost all settings for vaccinated Californians .
It is still important for everyone to stay vigilant, keep wearing masks as mandated and get vaccinated. Learn more at and to find out more about vaccinations, visit
 this date has passed so probably good to change the context. Also, the two bottom links are irrelevant at this point because no tier system.

Look Who's News in Partnerships:
Meet Rene Hamlin, Partnerships Specialist

Rene Hamlin started her career as a lab assistant at the United States Geological Survey at California State University (CSU), Sacramento, where she also ran the Associated Students Inc. Community Gardens. It was there that she discovered that raising funds for nonprofits was a rewarding career path.
She then worked for Earth Share of California, representing over 87 environmental nonprofit organizations in workplace giving campaigns, such as the State’s Our Promise giving campaign. She has worked for local nonprofits, including the American River Conservancy, Friends of the River, Capital Public Radio, Solar Cookers International and most recently Snowline Hospice. She earned two bachelor of arts degrees in anthropology and environmental studies from CSU Sacramento, and a master of science degree in nonprofit management and leadership from Walden University.
Along with her husband, Rene has been taking her two children camping and hiking since they were each 6 months old. She believes that being out in nature is a fundamental right of all people and should be experienced often. She also likes kayaking and cooking and is currently earning an associate of arts degree at Folsom Lake College in studio arts, focusing on watercolor.

Rene is excited to be working in the Partnerships Division to collaborate with nonprofit organizations for the betterment of our parks and to provide access to all.

Fun fact: On Rene’s last trip to the United Kingdom, she visited the Derby Arboretum, designed by John Claudius Loudon, which opened in 1840. It is often described as "Britain's first public park." She was very excited to visit the park and walk its paths: “Although green spaces and common lands had existed previously, as had private parkland and gardens, the park in Derby was the first to be deliberately planned as a place of public recreation in an urban setting. It was also visited by Frederick Law Olmsted while on a research tour of Europe, and it is thought that he may have incorporated features of Loudon's work into his design for Central Park in New York.”

California State Parks Expands RV Dump Station Pilot Project
By: Jared Zucker, Partnerships Division

California State Parks is expanding its recreational vehicle (RV) dump station pilot project by installing new automated RV dump station collection systems at 11 additional park units.
The existing project started in 2018 with 10 parks, to test the viability of a fee-based model, the public’s response to the systems and the value to park operations as an added visitor amenity. Benefits of the program have included greater cost recovery for expenses associated with pumping and treating RV waste, as well as discouraging inappropriate use of the dump stations.
Park visitors who are interested in using the RV dump stations may be required to pay a $10-$20 fee to use the dump station, depending on the location.
To view the full list of parks featuring the new collection systems, click here.



New Outdoor Recreation During COVID-19

By: David Block, Concessions Specialist, Partnerships Division

With many indoor spaces closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people have found opportunities to recreate safely outdoors. Many people are also discovering the outdoors for the first time, giving California State Parks’ concessionaires the chance to provide new and expanded services to a growing demographic of park visitors.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), current, new outdoor recreation participants are more likely to be female, younger, ethnically diverse, living in urban areas and in a slightly lower-income bracket than they were in 2019. The OIA also found that people are more likely to recreate closer to home and enjoy activities more easily done such as running, hiking, biking and other fitness activities.
State Parks would like to enhance these interests and meet recreational needs with new Concession Program opportunities, such as guided hikes, bicycle rentals and tours, and fitness classes. These concepts can also be tested in parks located in more urban areas closer to home that may attract a more diverse demographic of people.
While outdoor activity has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, more sedentary, non-outdoor activities have increased as well. The OIA found that more people have been watching more TV and spending increased time online than before the pandemic. To entice people away from their screens and rejuvenate outside, it is essential that State Parks’ concessions are attractive and truly enhance the visitor experience in State Parks as much as possible.
There is light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outdoor recreation industry looks to thrive in 2021 and onward as both seasoned and new outdoor enthusiasts look to explore their natural environment. The California State Parks Concessions Program will continue to work to identify and develop concession opportunities that enrich the outdoor experience for all Californians.

Winter Wildlife Wonders Campaign Launches to Protect Northern Elephant Seals

By: Kathleen Curtis, President, Board of Directors, Friends of the Elephant Seal

 In winter 2021, the Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES) was one of five entities  supporting northern elephant seal research, education and conservation to collaborate on a 12-week social media campaign, #WinterWildlifeWonders. The campaign provided natural history education, as well as messaging to prevent disturbances to elephant seals and increase awareness of safety issues on public beaches.
In addition to FES, which is a cooperating association with Hearst San Simeon State Park, the partnership included two California state parks (Hearst San Simeon State Park and Año Nuevo State Park), Point Reyes National Seashore and The Marine Mammal Center. These five entities cover elephant seal rookeries over a 600-mile span of coastline, from north to south. Additional nonprofit and regional tourism organizations participated as well, posting various content.
The group collaborated to create content for two posts per week, including messaging and photos/videos, beginning December 2020. The week-by-week content was made available in a shared online folder.
Through the #WinterWildlifeWonders campaign, the partner organizations received many positive comments and gained social media followers. More importantly, this collaboration created a powerful model for influencing audiences around common issues like habitat conservation and preventing wildlife disturbances. In addition, during pandemic-related travel restrictions, suspended volunteer placements and closures, the campaign was able to provide interpretive content to visitors unable to travel or access interpreters this past winter season.

Gerald O'Reilly and Staff at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area Selected for 2021 Merit Trail Award
By: Rene Hamlin, Partnerships Division
Several nonprofit partners teamed up to nominate Bay Area Sector Superintendent Gerald O’Reilly and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (CPSRA) staff for the 2021 Merit Trail Award. The award was presented at the California Trails and Greenways 2021 virtual conference in April.  

Read a portion of the letter of recommendation from our partners California State Parks Foundation, Parks California, Literacy for Environmental Justice and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy:

In 2020, Gerald O’Reilly was selected as the new Sector Superintendent, Bay Area Sector. With him, he has hired an interpretive ranger, park aide, and maintenance staff to join the existing CPSRA team. Within months, and within the constraints of emergency COVID protocols and continued limited staffing, the team has made significant gains with both community engagement and the first steps towards much-needed improvements to the park’s infrastructure. James Aliberti, Interpretive Park Ranger, has hosted over 10 community walks on park trails and several park volunteer clean-up days while maintaining safe social distancing and group size. He has created an active and enlightening park presence on social media. And, he has supported a Community Learning Hub in Alice Griffith Apartments, one of several centers created by the San Francisco Unified School District to serve elementary school children during distance learning.
Gerald O’Reilly has engaged with local officials to collaborate on issues that impact the park in and outside of park boundaries, such as vandalism and those related to people who have lost housing during the pandemic.

In 2020, the Candlestick Collaborative, which includes Literacy for Environmental Justice, California State Parks Foundation, Parks California, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and California State Parks, joined together to support the park and their goals of deepening community relationships and creating a safe, welcoming park for all. Through this, we have experienced first-hand the tremendous progress made by CPSRA staff toward serving the local community, despite the year’s unprecedented obstacles.

During this time of sheltering in place, we have learned the importance of shared open spaces that support healthy living, recreation and exercise. CPSRA staff should be recognized for their accomplishments in 2020 and on-going commitment to citizens most in need with a California Trails and Greenways Merit Award.

Rachel Norton, Executive Director California State Parks Foundation
Kindley Walsh Lawlor, President and CEO Parks California
Patrick Rump, Executive Director Literacy for Environmental Justice
Christine Lehnertz, President and CEO Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Join us in congratulating Gerald and the staff at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area for their part in creating access to our state parks for all.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park's First Ever-ever Online Volunteer Training a Great Success

Story and photos from: Rob Reif, Central Valley District

Volunteer Ann Pierson (left) gives her PowerPoint presentation on living history costumes to an unseen online audience, as volunteers Walt Pierson, Nancy Ide and Bob Ide (Note: Nancy and Bob live in same household so do not have to socially distance) await their portion of the presentation. Volunteers kept their distance to over 10-feet apart between family groups. With this distance maintained and with adequate ventilation, volunteers took off their masks for their speaking roles. 

Throughout the month of March, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) conducted its annual volunteer training on Saturdays to prepare both new and returning volunteers for the upcoming 2021 season. In normal years, this would lead to a crowded instruction room. However, this year because of the pandemic, we saw dozens of volunteers attending from their own homes, as we all continued to keep our social distance, even as we prepared to resume train operations, work projects and park interpretation. 
Now that training is completed, new and returning volunteers have access to a private YouTube link, where each webinar can be viewed as many times as needed.
As more events return, we look to be able to recruit new volunteers throughout the year. With video webinars at the ready, there will be no need to wait for the next volunteer training to start work. Also, one-on-one in-person interviews will still be conducted for every Railtown 1897 SHP volunteer.

Top left and top right: A virtual tour led by Railtown 1897 State Historic Park volunteer Walt Pierson provided a perfect overview of Railtown to an online audience of mostly first-time volunteers. Photos from Supervising Ranger Jackie Olavarria, Central Valley District. Bottom left and right: To provide a more dynamic presentation, portions of the training included a live virtual tour. Bottom left: Volunteer David Ethier gives his overview of performing maintenance and restoration work. Bottom right: Volunteers Bob Ide (front) and Walt Pierson (on board) review boarding procedures and tour narration for our new potential car hosts.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Virtual Cultural Celebrations
By Kim Loureiro, State Park Interpreter I

Although this past year brought some obstacles,, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park has still kept an active calendar of virtual cultural celebrations.
In fall 2020, we safely celebrated Fiestas Patrias virtually at Old Town San Diego with this 5-minute video, sponsored by the Boosters of Old Town San Diego, Wells Fargo and NWB Imaging. For the Latinx community, Fiestas Patrias celebrations have historically served to teach the community about Mexican history and culture, celebrate pride in their cultural roots and claim a sense of place and empowerment in a society that has historically marginalized them.
As part of our commemoration of Black History Month in February, we highlighted the African American experience, particularly the life of Allen Light and his time in Old Town San Diego, in this 5-minute video. Although California was known as a “free state” between 1848 and 1865, this was a complex, sometimes contradictory categorization that didn’t always protect the rights of African Americans and Afro-Latinos. While there were only eight African Americans or Afro-Latinos (listed as “blacks”) counted in San Diego County on the 1850 census, in Old Town San Diego, African American residents Allen Light and Richard Freeman were property and business owners with prominent standing in the community.
This past March, in honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrated the staff and volunteers who embody the spirit and stories of the remarkable women who made historic Old Town San Diego thrive. This 3-minute video highlights how we tell the stories, through presenting living history and school programs in period attire, of some of the extraordinary women who carved out a life in the San Diego frontier community.  
In honor of Earth Day, we hosted on April 22 a free online event highlighting Kumeyaay relationships with the land, both historically and currently. Programs for both children and adults were provided. Topics included the comparison of prescribed burns and cultural burns, First Peoples as scientists, and Bingo with ‘Iipay Aa plants and animals. Visit our YouTube page to watch the program.
In May, we celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month.
All of us at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park wish you a happy summer season and look forward to sharing more cultural events with you over the year.


Extremely Rare Find on Shores of Crystal Cove State Park: Intact, Deep-sea Anglerfish

Story from: Alexandra Anderson, Orange Coast District

There are more than 200 species of anglerfish worldwide, and this particular fish is most likely the Pacific Footballfish.
Only females possess a long stalk on the head with bioluminescent tips used as a lure to entice prey in the darkness of waters as deep as 3,000 feet. Their teeth, like pointed shards of glass, are transparent, and their large mouth is capable of sucking up and swallowing prey the size of their own body.
While females can reach lengths of 24 inches, males only grow to be about an inch long and their sole purpose is to find a female and help her reproduce. Males latch onto the female with their teeth and become “sexual parasites,” eventually coalescing with the female until nothing is left of their form but their testes for reproduction. The male becomes a permanent appendage that draws nutrition from its female host and serves as an easily accessible source of sperm. Wild!
The Pacific Footballfish found at Crystal Cove State Park (SP) will be given to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The desire is for the fish to go into the museum’s ichthyology collection, which is one of the largest in the state, where it can be properly preserved and remain available as a type specimen.
To see an actual anglerfish intact is very rare, and it is unknown how or why the fish ended up on the shore. Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the diversity of marine life lurking below the water’s surface in California’s MPAs, and as scientists continue to learn more about these deep-sea creatures, it’s important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean.
To view more photos, visit our FacebookTwitter and Instagram accounts and Crystal Cove SP's Facebook and Instragram pages.


Concession Team Conducts Virtual Field Training for State Parks Division

By: Kevin White, Partnerships Division

The Concessions Team conducted a virtual training in February designed to provide a high level, one-day orientation to staff in the four State Parks field divisions about the Concessions Program and the fundamental role of the field in concession contract management.

The training covered contract management topics and activities designed to help field staff become more aware of program processes and improve their ability to manage concession agreements. In addition to the lecture aspect of the training, which occurred during the morning sessions, the afternoon was reserved for office hours and an open workshop. Office hours offered staff from each district an opportunity to meet with their concessions specialist and address district-specific contract management challenges and concession-related topics. After the office hours sessions, an open workshop was held, reviewing resources in the Concessions Program Handbook.


  • Parks and Recreation Management Inc.-
    • Began its 10-year concession contract to develop, equip, operate and maintain the Camp Stores within El Capitán and Refugio State Beaches and Gaviota State Park.       
  • Cha Cha Jago Inc.-
    • Will begin its 10-year contract to develop, operate and maintain an equestrian lesson and guided trail riding concession to enhance the park visitor recreational and educational experience at Will Rogers State Historic Park.
  • Camping Adventures began its five-year concession contract to provide trailer rental service, consisting of various sized trailers, to park visitors within Leo Carrillo and Point Mugu State Parks. 
  • Cargo Snack Shack completed the construction of its new restaurant and is now open, providing food and beverage services in Los Angeles State Historic Park.
  • PRJKT Concessions Inc. began its 10-year concession contract to provide food and beverage restaurant offerings along with camping sundries and equipment rentals as well as special event and catering services at Huntington State Beach.


Be sure to follow the Partnerships Division social media channels on Instagram and Facebook!

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