Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 23, 2010

Park rangers are all a-Twitter

Palo Alto's open-space caretakers use social media site to share stories, encourage park use

by Martin Sanchez

Birds are not the only creatures tweeting in Palo Alto's Foothills Park this spring.

They are joined by Park Rangers Kathleen Jones and Curt Dunn, who have been posting on-the-job Twitter updates about Palo Alto's open-space preserves for the past year and a half.

Jones, aka "PAranger," and Dunn, aka "RangerCurt," type out 140-character communiques on everything from trail closures to weather observations to humorous vignettes about park visitors, other rangers and local flora and fauna.

"Met up with a lovely family whose child held a big wildflower bouquet. Including a sprig of poison oak," Jones tweeted on April 17. "Lecture and lesson ensued."

Jones signed up for a Twitter account to explain what her and her colleagues' jobs entail, which described "trash to toilets to fire to everything in between."

Being a park ranger is "kind of like being a homeowner," she said.

When entering an online world already rife with information, she tries to make her Twitter feed interesting — "give it some personality," she said.

Sometimes, she is meditative. "A drizzly start in Open Space. Deer acting a bit weird today — prancing and shaking heads as they move across grassy areas," Jones wrote on Feb. 19.

Other times, she is cheeky. On Wednesday, she posted a picture of dozens of fuzzy, thistle-like flowers, with the caption: "Ch-ch-ch-chia."

Weather is one of Dunn's favorite topics, he said, describing himself as "kind of the weather nut of the group."

On March 29, he posted, "Summer like weather is ending. Wednesday will be windy, cold and wet. Snow down to 2500 ft? It's almost April. Darn groundhog."

Dunn also uses Twitter to discuss safety around wildlife. "Two groups of hikers came upon rattlesnakes in different areas of Pearson Arastradero Preserve today. Watch your step," he wrote on March 20.

Twitter helps the rangers share other types of safety information as well. Dunn, who likes to tweet from his cell phone, posted daily updates about construction work on Foothills Park's windy access roads last year in order to help park visitors avoid dangerous routes, he said.

The rangers' Twitter habit also allows them to communicate with park rangers from other parts of the country. Rangers and public-safety officers have shared safety information via social networking sites for years, Dunn said, but they have begun to trade stories as well.

Twitter has spawned Palo Alto-centric communities of tweeters. Local mountain bikers whom Jones met through Twitter help the rangers monitor trail conditions at Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, she said.

"They ride anyway, and they educate people and report to us," she said.

Safety, education and community-building aside, Twitter is just plain fun, Jones said.

When the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo recently donated a stuffed and mounted wild turkey to Foothills Park staff, about 10-15 of Jones' Twitter followers suggested names for the bird at her request, she said.

She and the other rangers voted to determine the best submission, she said.

What name did they settle on?

"Cornbread," she said.

The bird is now mounted on a wall in the Foothills Park's Interpretive Center, which doubles as the rangers' headquarters and a museum about local wildlife.

The rangers hope their posts will encourage more Palo Alto residents to visit the city's open-space preserves, Jones said.

"A lot of people have lived (in Palo Alto) for 20 years and never knew you could come here. ... We want people to be out here enjoying the place, and we want to help them enjoy it," she said.

Areas like the 7.5-mile-long Los Trancos trail should be visited more frequently, Jones said. The trail passes through many types of local ecosystems and has "lots of wildflowers this time of year," she said.

The half-mile-long Fern Creek Loop is also under-utilized, Dunn said.

"Right now, there's the creek and the waterfalls. Everything is green right now, it's the perfect time of year," he said.

People who come to the open space areas might encounter the rangers — and could find themselves the subject of a tweet.

Twitter has become "part of my duties for me now. It's an extension of being of service to preserve visitors. I try to be judicious about it and not over-tweet or over-share," Jones said.

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