Dale Kinney took over as supervising ranger at Hearst San Simeon State Park on Nov. 2. As a longtime Central Coast resident, he’s familiar with the coast and its issues. He’s navigating the balance between beach visitors and wildlife. He’s alert to the importance of protecting archaeological sites.
State Parks’ mission is to protect natural and cultural resources while giving the public great outdoor experiences. Elephant seals are the most prominent wildlife along the Central Coast, but other birds, mammals and amphibians need protection, too. They are all part of what makes the Central Coast such a magnet for visitors.
Kinney is organizing a meeting of the Elephant Seal Advisory Group, all the groups and agencies involved with elephant seals, to work together to manage the relationship between the public and the wildlife.
Elephant seals often show up on the beach at San Simeon Cove during the winter breeding season. Two years ago, several females had pups there, but none returned in 2015. Adult bulls often rest on the beach.
State Parks interpreter Robyn Chase leads a short-term program, Elephant Seal Ambassadors, to help protect both visitors and seals at the cove during the winter months. Chase also coordinates the junior ranger and summer campfire programs. Call her on her cell 805-286-0856; at the office, 805-927-2126; or email her at Robyn.chase @parks.ca.gov to volunteer as an elephant seal ambassador.
“It’s a great way to volunteer if you don’t have a whole lot of time to spare,” she said.
Kinney is discouraging the public from flying drones over the seals, which is illegal. He posted “No Drones” signs at Piedras Blancas. He may permit drone users to fly their craft at the radio-controlled model airplane site near the campground.
Drone users are trying to have fun. They don’t realize that the craft can frighten wildlife, putting them in violation of federal and state laws that protect the critters.
“We never get pushback from people when we tell them they can’t use their drones here,” Kinney said. “We’re trying to strike a balance. Nobody is talking about closing the cove.”
The coastline was home to Native Americans in the past. The sites where they lived are protected cultural resources. Kinney has found occasional evidence of digging. He and the parks staff keep watch to protect those sites as well.
Ranger since 2002
Kinney was a ranger in Morro Bay for several years, and often camped at San Simeon Campground with his wife and daughter.
“I’m a big user of the parks,” he said. He surfs, hikes, skis and generally enjoys being outside.
Kinney spent six years on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, followed by 16 years in the USCG reserves. His service took him around the world, from Hawaii to Antarctica, where he served on an icebreaker.
His search-and-rescue background prepared him well for work as 911 operations controller for the city of Costa Mesa. He joined California’s Department of Parks and Recreation as a peace officer in 2002.
New reservation system
Kinney looks forward to a more convenient way of reserving space in the San Simeon campground: a real-time, statewide reservation system that will be live online in August. It will allow campers to reserve specific sites.
“People want to camp in groups,” he said. “They want to be able to reserve sites together.”
Visitors from urban areas want to secure campground reservations before setting out. Campsites are in demand. They are often reserved as much as seven months in advance. The state is not building new campgrounds.
“Some wing it and don’t reserve in advance,” he said, “but then can’t get a site.”
The new system will also make it possible to fill the campground up more often. That makes more efficient use of the sites, and welcomes more campers.
Kinney lives in Los Osos with his wife, Taryn, a massage therapist, and 6-year-old daughter, Zia. He and his wife met when she was a snowy plover monitor.
Kinney manages a staff of six rangers and 15 park aides. In addition to parks responsibilities, rangers help the CHP with traffic problems, step up for the SLO County sheriff in Cambria, and State Fish and Wildlife officers as needed.
The ranger staff works to make sure visitors enjoy their visit, while looking out for the natural and cultural wonders that brought the visitors here.
“Rangers want to make sure everybody has a good time and resources protected on the coast,” Kinney said.