Burb's Eye View: The truth about park docents

What I knew about wilderness docents: They can win a staring contest with a bobcat, they can make a spicy stew from pine cones and rattlesnake venom, they can smell deer from half a mile away, and they only tell time by judging the position of the sun.

What I now know about docents: I was wrong about them. While some of them may be able to do some or all of these things, you'd be more likely to find Chuck Norris arm-wrestling a coyote in Wildwood Canyon than you would find a nature park docent collecting pine cones for dinner.

The docents make up an important part of the Burbank park ecosystem, even if they are not all Paul Bunyans. They are guides, teachers and leaders and they are stewards of the lands that weave through Stough and Wildwood Canyons, up the Verdugos and around into the valley.

They keep up Burbank's hiking trails, lead nature walks, and make the wilderness parks of the city usable for the rest of us.

The Stough Canyon Nature Center will hold a dinner at 6:30 p.m. March 22 to honor the volunteers who help run the facility and its programs. The dinner will be held at the center, 2300 Walnut Ave. It's open to the public and costs $10. For more information, call the center at (818) 238-5440.

At the event, they'll also celebrate the many programs offered throughout the year for anyone interested in taking a hike.

“Our bodies are made to move,” said five-year volunteer Colleen Koll. “It's easy to do (a hike) — just slap on your shoes and away you go.”

The center will honor Koll and Ann Rousseve at the event for their respective five years of service. Since 2008, the two have helped the center put on haunted hikes at Halloween, led fitness hikes and worked with kids at the center.

Kudos will also be given to junior docents Peter Lainson, 11, Claire Dugger, 15, and Forrest Mitchell, 15. All three have assisted with nature camps, special events, trail clean-up/maintenance and displays at the center.

The dinner is a thanksgiving of sorts, getting all center supporters together so they can be properly recognized for donations of time and money, according to Carol Mercado, the center's director.

“It's kind of one big, happy family, really,” she said.

Rousseve began volunteering shortly after retiring. She often found herself wandering the trails up and down the Verdugos, living in the moment, taking in what's around her, spotting the occasional deer or bobcat.

“So many different walks of life utilize those trails,” she said. “People are always happy … and you never know what you're going to encounter.”

That includes ghouls and demons around Halloween, or the moon, if you're on a moonlight hike with fellow stargazers.

One thing you won't see: the bench Koll donated at the top of one of the trails.

Someone took the bench shortly after it was installed, along with several others from the Burbank Rotary. Koll has heard rumors of its whereabouts, but it may be lost in a ravine.

“We're going to have to do a rescue mission one of these days,” Koll said.

The life of a docent is adventurous, occasionally perilous and, as Koll has learned, sometimes thankless. This does not deter the docents from making their appointed rounds; rather, they are empowered to serve both man and beast, ensuring the wilds of our own back yard are an accessible and fun part of our lives.


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't attending conventions, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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