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Retirement Can't Keep Boggs From Forest


OJAI — Retirement feels awfully peculiar to John Boggs and it probably won't last long. Call it a well-deserved respite for now.

Boggs, 53, sits at the kitchen table of his Oak View home, drinking coffee and reflecting on 29 years spent patrolling the Los Padres National Forest as a ranger working out of the Ojai station.

He helped hippies free vans stuck on the road leading out of the Sespe wilderness in the 1970s, supervised wards of the court clearing trails with machetes in the '80s and avoided office computers like poison oak in the '90s.

Through it all, Boggs' love of the outdoors shone as brightly as the summer sun over Matilija Canyon.

So, the early retirement cash buyout he took in January be damned, he's got to get back out there. He volunteers to lead a group of senior citizens into the wilderness one week, donates four days fixing a water problem in Wheeler Gorge the next.

"I do what I can," Boggs said. "I've got a lot of energy and a lot of time. I thought I'd be working again by now. I'm thinking about what to do as a second career."

He does his restless pondering at the kitchen table and in the cozy living room of the home he has shared with his wife, Martha, for 24 years. They grew up locally--John attended Nordhoff High in Ojai, Martha attended Ventura High--married soon after and reared four children. One daughter, Jane, lives next door with her husband and two children.

Boggs has deep roots, but they are widespread as well, touching every nook and cranny of the loaf-shaped 40- by 15-mile stretch of national forest in Ventura County.

He is as at home in the wilderness as in his living room, and he values solitude as much as a house filled with children and grandchildren. But Boggs doesn't mind the public enjoying the national forest--in fact, his career was spent providing, not prohibiting, access.

"It's good for people to visit the forest, to hike and camp and ride horseback," he said. "The Forest Service has good intentions. It's just that some of the policies don't go the way they were intended."

Boggs, soft-spoken and unassuming, is only mildly critical of his lifelong employer. He supports the 1964 Wilderness act that prohibits motorized vehicles and equipment--including chain saws--in land designated as wilderness. Building trails with hand tools is far less efficient, but Boggs understands the rationale of not spoiling a wilderness experience with loud motors.

"It's not so bad doing it by primitive means, but if cost is a factor, it isn't efficient," he said. "Usually hikers are glad to see you out there doing the work."

There are ways the Forest Service could improve, Boggs insists.

Start with those dang computers that seemed to find their way into every station while Boggs was out on patrol.

He says that rangers whose primary job is to prevent fires spend the winter hibernating, hunting and pecking on a keyboard. Not so many years ago, those rangers built and cleared trails during winter months when there is little threat of fires.

"That hurts recreation and trails a lot," he said. "It used to be that half a dozen people worked on trails when there were no fires.

"Hey, I could spend all day on a computer, too. But that wouldn't take care of the trails and camps. If you are in a field-going position, you need to spend time in the field."

A smaller bone of contention is the Forest Service's Adventure Pass Pilot Program, which requires members of the public to purchase daily passes for $5 per vehicle. A yearly pass can be purchased for $30.

Besides the philosophical question of paying for access to a forest that is already maintained by tax dollars, Boggs believes the yearly pass is a problem in an especially rainy year like this one.

"It doesn't develop a good rapport with the public," he said. "Most of the roads and trails have been closed for months because of El Nino. There should be a credit or an extension for people who bought those passes and can't use them."

Boggs built or cleared most of the 226 miles of trails in the portion of the national forest governed by the Ojai Station. He believes little of it is in danger of overuse.

"When I grew up in Ojai I rode my Honda trail bikes back there and also did my share of hiking," he said. "It sparked an interest in the wilderness I wanted to pursue. I'd like to see more people get that sort of feeling."

A lot more people did before the Sespe Creek area was designated "roadless" by the Forest Service in 1978. Motorized vehicles were prohibited thereafter from an area that for years was a favorite hangout of all sorts of folks who wanted to retreat from city life.

Boggs was responsible for the campground and creek area he says was "the last outlaw place in Ventura County" through most of the '70s. Although he describes his duties as primarily "law-enforcement work," he remembers the time fondly.

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