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Volunteers Mount Up to Assist in Park Patrol

August 13, 1987|CHRISTINE VICARS | Vicars is an Agoura Hills free-lance writer. and

It was 9 p.m. in a small classroom at the Malibu community center. Eight people crouched on the floor over eight blond female dummies.

"Do you really have to give it your all when you're breathing?" one woman asked, breathless.

Another trainee grumbled good-naturedly about his knees hurting.

"You wait," warned CPR instructor Tony Hoffman. "Just wait until you're doing this on rocks and stones and chaparral. Then you'll wish you had a nice, hard, wooden floor like this."

Once they've learned CPR and other first-aid techniques and how to use a two-way radio, the volunteers gathered this night will become members of the Mounted Assistance Units (MAU) for the Santa Monica Mountains.

They will join several hundred MAU volunteers statewide whose job is to patrol on horseback through wilderness parks. Volunteers patrol in pairs, five hours at a time, covering park trails where park ranger vehicles cannot reach.

Their role, according to Malibu resident Peno Dwinger, who originated the idea of the MAU in 1977 and continues to be MAU coordinator for the Santa Monica Mountains region, is to help ensure a smooth coexistence between wilderness and park visitors, who often come from urban environments, and frequently know little about regulations and safety precautions.

It is a job, Dwinger said, which is never dull. "There are a million things to do."

Reminders of Fire Danger

MAU volunteers have to remind park visitors that fires are not permitted--even small stoves, or cigarettes--or that dogs are not allowed in state parks, since they disturb the wilderness, or that the limit for catching fish is five per person, or that plants and wild creatures have to be left alone.

"What for us is normal," Dwinger said, referring to the wilderness, "for millions and millions of people is just a picture."

Volunteers' most memorable experiences while patrolling tend to be humorous rather than life-threatening.

"We did round up a large and very friendly-looking escaped dog one time," seven-year veteran MAU volunteer Gerry Duryee said.

Gary Boyle, another longtime volunteer who patrols Malibu Creek State Park, remembers the first time he and his colleague were called on the radio about a serious accident. It involved a climber who had fallen and had suffered head injuries.

The two volunteers were having lunch at the time. His colleague's horse was tied to a tree. "I had hobbled my horse," Boyle said.

When the message came through on the radio, Boyle leaped onto his horse and prepared to gallop to the rescue. Trouble was, he'd forgotten the hobble.

"The horse leaped like a jack rabbit," Boyle said. "He couldn't go anywhere."

Boyle jumped off the horse and quickly removed the hobble, but by the time they reached the scene of the accident, professional rescue teams were already there.

But emergency rescue has never been the purpose of the MAU. Volunteers are routinely taught to use their radios to call park rangers for help in any emergency, and it is for accident prevention that volunteers are chosen, equipped and trained.

"Rangers are trained professionals," Dwinger explained. "They are armed and have the power of arrest, if necessary. We do not. All we carry is a radio and first-aid supplies."

Yet the role of the MAU is an important one, say park officials--especially in the Santa Monica Mountains. The entire Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area is 150,000 acres, and acquisitions of new property are still being made.

Meanwhile, according to park officials, budget restraints have meant that ranger manpower is stretched increasingly thin.

Consider, for instance, the state park system. With 40,000 acres of parkland to patrol in the Santa Monica Mountain region, and three million visitors each year, Bud Getty, state park district superintendent, has just 20 park rangers to draw upon, four of them part-timers.

Link to Public

His patrol force is stretched to the limit, Getty acknowledges. Increasingly, he relies on the volunteers to act as an important link between the public and park officials, saying, "Without the MAU, we could not work."

Getty estimates that there are about 100 MAU volunteers--the number fluctuates--involved in four of the seven state parks in his Santa Monica Mountains district, which stretches from Will Rogers State Park in the east to Leo Carillo State Park in the west.

Each of the four parks, Getty said, has a separate, independent MAU unit attached to it, ranging from 20 to 35 members. A unit will send out one two-member team to patrol on weekends, or possibly two teams in larger parks such as the 15,000-acre Point Mugu State Park.

"They are an extension to our eyes and ears," Getty said.

Before being accepted into the program, riders and their horses are tested for their trails skills. In the Santa Monica Mountains area, this means being scrutinized by MAU coordinator Dwinger and Linda Palmer, president of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council.

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