Thursday, October 16, 2008
After nearly 30 years patrolling in one of the most ecologically diverse, spectacularly scenic areas known to man, Ranger Chuck Bancroft is as much a part of Point Lobos State Reserve as its watchful Cypress trees, splendidly sculpted rocks, or the myriad resident otters, sea lions and Brandt’s cormorants.
The list of elements that make up this wild landscape would simply not be complete without the quintessential ranger, whose job description is a list itself: His duties require him to play peace officer, naturalist, teacher, resident, mushroom hunter, photographer, handyman, and feature film location coordinator– in fact, his skills at facilitating movies in the park will garner him an award this week.
His office, a small, simple building just inside the gates of the preserve, quickly reveals that there is more to this ranger than just maps and ticket books. A stuffed squirrel peeks out over the top of his computer monitor, stalked by a hovering osprey (similarly stuffed) and a turkey vulture. His book shelf reflects his versatility: a John Muir Mountains of California field guide and Photoshop manual both hold places there, fronted by a cartoonish mushroom and an Indiana Jones action figure.
Bancroft started working at Point Lobos State Park in 1981, after a short stint in Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. He can identify the 350 different plants and 250 birds that make their way through his park, but pressed to name a ranger with a longer tenure in the State Park System, he can only identify one. “Miles Standish has been up in the Santa Cruz mountains longer than I have been here,” he says with a devilish grin.
“My first priority is to steward and protect the landscape, and the safety of its visitors, but there is a balance,” Bancroft says as he steps into his truck to patrol the park under a clear, deep blue sky. “We are trained to do a little bit of everything. That is why they call us generalists.”
The so-called “battle” kit Bancroft carries in his truck helps demonstrate that resourcefulness– it includes everything from high-powered binoculars (which he uses almost constantly when in the field), to a toilet plunger, a first aid kit, an AR-15 assault rifle, and his trusty camera. (A humble but accomplished wildlife photographer, Bancroft has seen his work published in many local magazines and guidebooks, and can be seen on the website for Point Lobos State Park, which he also built and maintains. If it hops, swims, sways, or splashes out at Point Lobos, chances are that Bancroft has captured it– from several angles.)
Pulling up to Monastery Beach, he spots a sea kayaker launching. “He’s going to go out and anchor, and then he’ll probably go spear fishing. If he comes inside the perimeter of the [marine] preserve, he’s poaching,” Bancroft notes. At the next stop, he spots a problem in the almost imperceptible distance. With a booming bullhorn, Ranger Chuck admonishes the specks in question. “Hello, across the beach!” he says. “Your white dog must be on a leash always!”
Bancroft’s steady authoritative presence is a key part of his impressive versatility– and one he balances with accessibility and humor.
“He has to be the tough guy, as ranger,” chuckles Sandy Hale, a park docent. “He can be gruff.”
“That’s called command presence!” Bancroft replies, laughing into his goggles. Hale watches as Bancroft picks out a school of at least 20 Russo’s dolphins frolicking off of Pinnacle Point, pointing out the amazing migration to a gaggle of blown-away tourists.
Hale then hits upon the quality that is likely most vital in Bancroft’s skill set: his unmistakable enthusiasm for Point Lobos and his desire to share it, a passion most plainly apparent in his work with children.
“The greatest thing that Chuck does by far is working with school kids,” Hale says. “They really love Ranger Chuck.”
Among the many programs Bancroft develops and leads are naturalist programs with local schools– he has coordinated one with the Carmel River School for 18 years running– and local Boy Scout troops.
“It is a neat feeling that you are having an effect on somebody,” Bancroft says. “We teach leadership. The Eagle Scout projects that we host teach organization and service. It is great to see the kids getting back out into nature, instead of in front of the TV all of the time.”
Interestingly, Bancroft’s ability to translate Point Lobos to the TV and silver screen will earn him recognition this week as he travels to Los Angeles to attend a film industry awards ceremony, where he has been nominated for a Location Scouting award.
“Ranger Chuck has been a valuable resource in a sensitive and remarkable state parks region,” says Monterey County Film Commission spokeswoman Karen Nordstrand. “This award enables us to recognize the achievements of industry professionals and public employees who help keep film business coming into our county.”
“There is that balance again,” Bancroft says, “These films bring a lot of money to our area, and I am more than happy to help them achieve their goals– so long as they agree to leave the land and the sea as they found it.”
One gets the feeling that this is not Bancroft’s first award, or his last, for that matter.