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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Oct 10, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugSorry everybody, no story about plants or animals this week. I am trying something new for a few weeks to provide some variety – then I’ll go back and forth with the topics.

I am always talking to you about Placerita Canyon like it is an enchanted land, with wonderful volunteers.  It is and they are, but you might not have a clue where this place is. So let’s start with the basics: I can give you the address and make a detailed description, but in this age of computers, I am just going to give you the web page: www.Placerita.org.

It is a natural area, a state park operated by Los Angeles County, and it has many easy hiking trails and some pretty cool programs.  On Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m., Janet Kubler will present “Who is eating whom in the Food Web?” – an exploration of the fascinating relationships in the Placerita ecosystem. Janet is a docent at Placerita and a biology professor at California State University, Northridge. She is an enthusiastic speaker who has a talent for taking complex topics and making them clear and simple to grasp.

I do not speak often enough about our administration. On Wednesday, Oct. 2, we had an important visit: Major General Anthony L. Jackson, our California State Parks Director, came to Placerita. He is the top guy, the boss for all of these operations, so you can well imagine we were extremely honored, pleased and … well, yes, nervous and curious.

MG Anthony Jackson

MG Anthony Jackson

Jackson was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Nov. 13, 2012, so he is rather new on his job, and this trip was an introduction to different state parks operated by the county.

Some of us were checking our facts before his visit, and this is what we could find on Google:

From 1998 to 2000, Jackson was assistant chief of staff, G-7, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. From 2000 to 2002, he served as the commanding officer of the  1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. In 2003, he concurrently served as chief of staff to Joint Task Force-555 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, and the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan. From 2003 to 2005, he was assistant chief of staff, G-5, First Marine Expeditionary Force, deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

In 2005, Jackson served as deputy commanding general of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command until his deployment to Stuttgart, Germany, in 2007, where he was named director of Operations and Logistics for the U.S. Africa Command until 2009.

Before his retirement from the Marine Corps in 2012, Jackson served as a commanding general, managing seven bases on 160,000 acres and supervising 118 ecologists and other scientists.

You have to admit, it’s an impressive resume.

How were we going to show him what Placerita is all about?

We had a school group of second graders coming out that morning. That was perfect, and even if you can resist the face of second grader full of awe, you cannot resist Lanita Algeyer showing a tarantula. Jackson was interested and started to ask questions about the animals. We knew he was hooked. This was Placerita’s magic in action.

From left: State Parks Director Anthony L. Jackson, County Parks Director Russ Guiney, Assistant County Parks Director Hayden Sohm. Photo: Evelyne Vandersande/PCNCA

From left: State Parks Director Anthony L. Jackson, County Parks Director Russ Guiney, Deputy Director Hayden Sohm. Photo: Evelyne Vandersande/PCNCA

We stepped into the docent room and the table was lined with documents about our future Interpretive Center, but he went straight to the point in a confident and forthright manner that won our sympathy right away.

“What is your draw in this park?” he asked.

County Parks Director Russ Guiney, Deputy Director Hayden Sohm and park Superintendent Russ Kimura discussed the numerous school groups coming to the center each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; all of the programs offered by the volunteers; and the trails being opened to equestrians, bicycles and hikers.

Volunteer Ron Kraus received some well earned praise to have been the “go between” for the cycling organizations, the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates docents, and the trails rehabilitation team to accommodate everybody and at the same time preserve the environment of the Canyon Trail so the changes could be made in a smooth manner.

Our state park director told us that when he retired, he just wanted to take off in his camper to check all the state parks – but the governor and the Secretary of the Interior called him to take this job. His wife is the “greeny” in the family, and she pushed him, too. He listened to us, took his time, was friendly and personable, and showed a great sense of humor. He was also self-assured, direct, confident, and for you ladies … I can tell you he is still a Marine, complete with bulging muscles.

He was introduced to a few docents: Jim Southwell, president of PCNCA; Ron Kraus, vice president; Deb Clem, Suzie Hermann handling the king snake, and me.

Placerita Nature Center volunteer Evelyne Vandersande receives a challenge coin from State Parks Director Anthony L. Jackson, USMC. Photo: Ron Kraus/PCNCA

The writer receives a challenge coin from State Parks Director Anthony L. Jackson, USMC. Photo: Ron Kraus/PCNCA

I blurted out that I had been a docent for 27 years. He picked up on my French accent and we exchanged a few pleasant words; meanwhile he asked one of his assistants to fetch his bag from the car. Suddenly Anthony Jackson was standing in front of me with a gold coin in his hand, explaining to me the tradition behind the challenge coin and the special handshake we were going to have. He told all of us that it was something he would rarely do, but for 27 years, he was going to make an exception.

I was surprised, honored, moved … and a little bit uncertain. “A challenge coin?” What challenge would I have to perform?

He was sweet, said a few words in French, and I protested gently that this honor should be directed to all of the docents, because our work is always a group effort.

The officials left for lunch, and the docents surrounded me to explain what this coin was all about, as they could plainly see I was a dazzled by all that had just happened.

Kraus, who had received a challenge coin from a general in the Air Force who is a friend of his, told us it is a special recognition given by high-ranking members of the military.

The following is a brief description of why it is done:

“Challenge coins are presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of the unit. They are also exchanged in recognition of visits to an organization.”

So yes, it was a special visit, and I think our park is in good hands with our new state parks director, Major General Anthony Jackson. It is a good feeling to get this kind of support for Placerita.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.



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1 Comment

  1. David Tanner says:

    Thank you for such a good informative article. Your team of volunteers are doing a great job and does not get the recognition you all deserve.

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