Q-and-A with Sacramento’s chief park ranger Stan Lumsden
On speeding cyclists, Rafting Gone Wild and what the county does with all the stuff confiscated from homeless camps
Stan Lumsden's taste in wall art explains everything you need to know about Sacramento County's chief park ranger. Framed posters for A Few Good Men and Heartbreak Ridge are signs that the big, clear-eyed Lumsden digs tough-guy movie fare, while a replica portrait of Seinfeld's Kramer indicates an appreciation for wacky hijinks.
And it's a good thing, too, as the retired Roseville police captain approaches his second year on the parks beat. He took over enforcement of the 23-mile American River Parkway vein during interesting times in September 2011—homeless camps became a political cause, river partying went viral and speed-racing cyclists pissed off pedestrians.
As the summer season gets cracking—and as Rafting Gone Wild plots a “secret” river-party return—Lumsden welcomed SN&R into his office for a chat on homeless garbage, trail etiquette and the best way to stop a speeding cyclist. Regional parks director Jeff Leatherman popped in partway through.
It's getting busier on the trails. How much of the job entails reminding people of proper trail decorum?
Stan Lumsden: If we encounter someone doing something that looks unsafe—for example, let's say a person is jogging down the middle of the trail with headphones on—we get their attention and remind them of the etiquette rules and why it's in their best interest to follow those rules.
With pedestrians, there's no codified law that we can issue them a citation. In other words, if someone's walking on the wrong side of the trail, it's not a good idea, but it's nothing we can cite somebody for.
With the cyclists, have you cited any for speeding yet?
Lumsden: All warnings at this point.
What has the reaction been so far?
Lumsden: Initially, when we announced to the community that we were going to do this, we got a lot of negative feedback. That has dwindled in the last few days, and I'm getting a lot of positive feedback now from the community, saying it's about time that somebody paid attention to this.
What's the best way to stop a cyclist?
Lumsden: For us, it's to wave them over. To get them on the lidar at a distance, give them plenty of time to see the ranger. Clearly, we're not going to engage in pursuing people in an automobile. Potentially, we could on our dual-sport motorcycles, but it hasn't come to that. Most people are pretty reasonable. There's always that small faction of people that's going to split, but I don't envision that happening on the bike trail.
Last year, you participated in a few warrant sweeps along the trail. How do those come about?
Lumsden: There's really no criteria, if you will. It's a subjective call, really, as to when we do that. Obviously, our rangers are out contacting people on a regular basis, and when they have warrants, they go to jail.
So, is it just like seasonal?
Jeff Leatherman: You're looking for a hard and fast rule on what we do, and there isn't one.
Lumsden: Yeah, there isn't one. I mean, that's the honest answer: There's no formula for when we do this. I don't know what else to tell you.
You're doing daily raids on some of these camps. Is it the size that dictates?
Lumsden: If it exists. We contact people that are breaking the law. If they're camping illegally in the park—whether it's one tent or three tents, one person or 10 people—we have rangers, that's their full-time job, is camp enforcement. They make contact with them and do whatever is appropriate at the time, whether that be to issue a citation … [or] if it's an unoccupied camp, to post a notice for that camp to move.
Are rangers seeing more of these illegal camps?
Lumsden (to Leatherman): This might be an opportune time to show him [the] Mobile 311 [Citizen Self-Service application].
(Lumsden pulls up a software application on his desktop computer showing a satellite-view map of the parkway. Two areas in particular—along Highway 160 and around Discovery Park—are clustered with icons indicating occupied and unoccupied camps and garbage that were noted in the past 90 days. Rangers in the field use their smartphones to upload photos. Lumsden pulls up one photo showing clothes, wrappers and plastic bags cluttered around a shaded nook of the parkway.)
Lumsden: You can see here what looks like the remnants of a camp. There's just stuff strewn all over the place. That's fairly common.
Where do you take all this stuff? Is it just sent to the landfill?
Lumsden: Yeah, it's just garbage. At Discovery Park, we've got a great big open-ended Dumpster there, and our crews take it in there, and throw it away.
Leatherman: There is property, so the garbage, once the camp is cleared out, there's some other rules associated with it if we contact somebody that has personal property, then there [are] other steps to take.
Lumsden: Yeah, if we encounter an unoccupied camp, we will post that for 48 hours. If there's still no one there, we will collect that and book that into one of the … storage facilities … [where we] rent space. We take it in our truck and drive it over there and stack it up neatly and tag where we took it from. And then, a lot of times, people will contact us and say, “Hey, I was in jail,” or, “I was in the hospital,” whatever, “I was visiting friends. That's my stuff,” and then we return that stuff to them. Of course, we tell them no more camping in the park.
That would be an interesting Storage Wars auction. As of now, 600 people have signed up for Rafting Gone Wild's “secret” event.
Lumsden: (Laughs.) It's not a real secret if 600 people have signed up.
Its Facebook page is promising mud wrestling, jungle juice, a little bit of nudity. It says, “This year we are trying to make this trip even wilder than the last. We must build on last years epic success and put the American River on the map…again!” That didn't turn out so well last time. How do you keep this group off the map?
Lumsden: (Laughs.) Well, they're entitled to use the park like anyone else, and we're just going to enforce the law. That's all I'll say.
But you guys have a little bit more leverage in terms of the law, right? In terms of a targeted alcohol ban?
Leatherman: The board [of supervisors] has given the director of regional parks, myself, the authority to put alcohol restrictions in place. There's some criteria associated with conferencing with the county exec and other public-safety entities here in the county, but we do have that ability if we need to. And, as Stan said, our plan is to enforce the law and keep people safe when they're using the river.
My favorite quote from its Facebook page is, “Use common sense and don't get blacked out, you will get aids and then drown.” Does that make you feel better?
Leatherman: Consumption of significant amounts of alcohol on the river is never a good idea, regardless of what day of the week it is. We do have the unfortunate situations where we do have tragic accidents out on the river, and that's where [free] life jackets come from, and that's where our hope is that people make wise choices when they're enjoying what we have right in the middle of Sacramento. We're going to do our part—and we have to—to foster those decisions, but we would rather people make those themselves.
What do you guys see as the future of this particular parks system five years down the road?
Leatherman: The American River Parkway is governed by the American River Parkway Plan. The first one was written in the '70s, there was a revision in '85, and there was a revision in 2009 that we're operating under now, essentially keeping the parkway as rural and scenic as possible, as it is right now. And that's sort of the overarching goal—this riparian corridor right in the center of a heavily populated metropolitan city.
Do you anticipate any significant revisions to that plan?
Leatherman: It hasn't been talked about in recent years. The parkway plan calls out for a new look every five or six years. That hasn't been done; 2009 is the latest version that we have. It's fairly expensive to go through the parkway revision-plan process. It's just a matter of having the need and then the resources to be able to do it.
What don't people know about your job that is pretty critical?
Lumsden: You know, what I would say is just the complexity of it. If people are using the parkway, they're usually using it one way or the other. And they see that piece of it. They don't necessarily see the complexity, all the various government agencies that we have to play nice with and all the rules entailed in those government agencies, and all the pressure coming from the other interest groups. There's no way to make everyone happy. We try our best.