Park rangers wear a lot of hats in order to keep local parks safe and clean and Sonoma County Park Ranger Ryan Conradi is one such ranger who works myriad tasks as a ranger, such as park clean up, river patrol, community engagement, first aid and rescue.
“One day I’ll be working with kids in the morning doing a junior ranger program, and then I’ll put the vest back on and go out to all of the river beaches and deal with drunk people, and then there’s trash to pull, so I’m putting on gloves, getting dirty and at the end of the day, I’ll have to go and lock up the parks and there might be someone lost in the park,” Conradi said. “So day to day there are a lot of different things rangers have to be ready for and adapt to.”
On Friday, July 26, Sonoma West had the opportunity to ride along with Conradi for part of his on his 2 to 10 p.m. shift.
Conradi, who lives at the ranger residence fulltime with his wife and cats at Healdsburg Veteran’s Memorial Beach, has been working with the regional parks for 11 years.
While his job can be nitty gritty and messy, the Sonoma County native said being a ranger has made him the person he is today.
“I’ve learned a lot of patience and how to convey the park rules nicely and be patient with people. I think if I had been working at a desk job or maybe computer work I don’t think I’d be where I am now,” Conradi said.
For Conradi, a lot of his patience skill comes from one of his main tasks: making sure park goers are following the rules, such as the recent alcohol ban.
In May, Sonoma County Regional Parks extended the alcohol ban to Steelhead and Sunset Beaches from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, Sept. 2.
Mom’s Beach, Healdsburg Veteran’s Memorial Beach and Guerneville River Park also share the ban.
Conradi explained that the ban in part is an effort to try to make the beaches more family-friendly and less party centric.
Conradi starts his patrol duties at Healdsburg Veteran’s Memorial Beach and then ventures out to the other river beaches. During the winter, however, Conradi tends to patrol more of the inland parks.
“It kind of depends on where the people are. If it is going to be really hot, then there will be a lot of people out on the beaches,” he said.
On Friday it was forecasted to be 90 degrees so he checked in on the river staff to see how busy it would be and decided to set out for the river parks, starting at Riverfront Regional Park.
On the drive to Riverfront, Conradi talked about what he likes the most about the job.
“I would say one of my favorite things is just to walk around and greet people and make sure people are having a good time. I would say getting out and hiking trails is always nice, but it is tough to do when there is a lot of people that need to be managed,” Conradi said.
He said he also enjoys doing park maintenance, such as fixing some steps on a trail or tightening bolts on a park bench.
Once at Riverfront, Conradi explained some of his other duties, which include making sure people have paid the $7 entrance fee and leading junior ranger programs for kids in the Redwood tree grove.
After Conradi strolled through the parking lot, it appeared that one park visitor did not pay — there was no sign of a ticket stub on their dashboard, but instead of handing out a $50 fine, he left them a warning.
He said even though park rangers are law enforcement officers, he likes to take the “friendly park ranger” role into account.
The safety/rescue role
From Riverfront park we traveled to Steelhead Beach.
By about 2:30 p.m. the air was getting hot and stagnant, and more beach goers were gathering at the beach to cool off.
Conradi walked up and down the beach and watched over a few kids who had climbed up a rock from the embankment and were jumping into the river.
River safety is an important factor, and another reason for the alcohol ban.
When floating down the river, heat exhaustion is a risk factor, and the risk can be worse when drinking.
“If people are intoxicated on the beaches then that is always difficult to work with to get them to understand park rules when they are drunk, so that is one aspect of the job that is difficult,” Conradi said.
He explained that a lot of the rescue calls he gets are floating groups who may lose someone in the group or have someone get stranded and more often than not, alcohol can lead to confusion and separation.
In one instance, a group of friends swimming in the river lost track of their friend and a big search involving the Sonoma County Sheriff and the helicopter ensued; however, it turned out that the friend was at a bar the whole time.
Community engagement role
After Conradi made sure swimmers were being safe and that the beach was clean, we made our way to Mom’s Beach in Forestville.
While on the road Conradi talked about life growing up on the river, living in Guerneville with his mother and aunt.
Conradi spent most of his days on the water, but moved to Santa Rosa when he was in high school where he went to Cardinal Newman High School.
For Conradi, being on the river means meeting new people and experiencing someone new every day, and that is where his community engagement role comes in.
While at Mom’s Beach Conradi mingled with beach visitors and talked about the jackets that are available to both kids and adults at Sonoma County. The jackets are donated and are free to use.
“Some of the fun parts are dealing with the public, but it can also be difficult because a lot of the time we’re there to enforce a lot of the park rules.” Not everyone wants to follow those rules, he added.
One aspect of that is dealing with illegal camping and homelessness.
“Sometimes it kind of tugs at your heartstrings a little bit saying, ‘You can’t stay here.’ I feel bad sometimes because they may not be having the greatest year, or they may have an addiction, or they may have mental issues,” he said.
When asked if he has seen an increase in homeless related illegal camping over the years, he said it seems like it has stayed the same.
“It has kind of been the same but we see a lot of the regulars.” He said sometimes rangers get to know them and will try to get them into shelters, however, not everyone necessarily wants help.
The park clean up role
After his patrol rounds were completed at Mom’s Beach, we headed over to Sunset Beach Regional Park but were stopped on the fire road due to a large section of tree that had fallen and blocked the road.
This is where Conradi’s clean up role comes in.
Armed with only a rake and the power of his boots, Conradi had to break up the tree into more manageable pieces to clear the path.
After about three minutes worth of dust, sweat and effort, the road was clear.
Afterward, we walked down to the beach where he found more messes to clean up: a stray coffee cup and resealable baggie stuffed with tissues and cups.
He said at the end of the day when he’s locking up parks for the night, he could collect a truck bed full of trash.
He spared the details on what cleaning the bathrooms are like at the end of the day.
The first aid role
Our final stops for the day included a quick check at Shiloh Regional Park and Foothill Regional Park.
Conradi talked about what type of injuries he most commonly responds to. He said bruised knees, scraped skin, twisted ankles and heat exhaustion are the most common.
These injuries are common throughout the inland parks; however, on this particular day it was quiet on the trails, with few hikers and joggers.
In order to get his ranger position, Conradi had to take an EMT class and get certified through the Santa Rosa Junior College along with a ranger academy course.
“It’s such a great academy; it is about a four-month course. It takes a lot of dedication,” he said.
A good fit
While Conradi originally wanted to be a teacher, he said being a park ranger is an excellent fit. Even though he enjoyed working with kids, he missed being outside. He then started doing ride alongs with rangers and realized it was the perfect fit.
Conradi said, “It has really helped me to learn about myself and who I am and how I act with people. And that’s the part I like about this job: I can be myself, I don’t have to put up this front to people, so I think I’ve kind of grown up a lot.”