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Published: Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011

Ranger academy’s next home will be Camp SLO

Camp SLO’s centralized facilities will train rangers during National Guard slack times

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| dsneed@thetribunenews.com

Camp San Luis Obispo is the new home of the California State Parks Department ranger academy.

The parks officials told The Tribune this week that the ranger academy will be relocated from Pacific Grove in Monterey County to San Luis Obispo as a cost- savings measure.

The academy trains about 30 new rangers and lifeguards a year. The first academy at Camp San Luis Obispo is scheduled to begin Jan. 8 and will last 22 weeks, said Kirk Sturm, a retired State Parks superintendent who is heading the transition team.

“Bottom line, this move will save money and it will allow improved teaching and learning opportunities for our cadets,” he said.

Three full-time instructors will be stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo. During an academy, which lasts nearly six months, numerous other State Parks employees will be brought in at various times to teach the 43 different skill sets a ranger must possess.

This means that, at any given time during an academy session, about 40 State Parks people would be at the camp. “We anticipate over the course of the training maybe 100 people coming to teach their area of expertise,” Sturm said.

State Parks will schedule their academies during the winter months when other training demands at the camp are reduced. Most Army National Guard training takes place during the summer.

“We feel it is mutually beneficial for them to utilize our ranges and other training facilities,” said Maj. Mark Johnson, Camp San Luis Obispo spokesman.

The move has been a year and a half in the making. The department determined the current training center at Asilomar State Beach is inadequate.

The main problem is that the Pacific Grove location lacks the necessary facilities for training in firearms, arrest techniques and emergency vehicle use. Cadets had to travel to Fort Ord and other facilities in the area to do that training.

At one recent academy, the department incurred $230,000 in overtime transporting cadets to distant off-site facilities. Camp San Luis Obispo has all of those facilities in one centralized location.

“Not only will State Parks save money, but our cadets will have more time to study, rest and receive mentoring,” Sturm said.

The Pacific Grove facility, which opened in 1969, will continue to be used for nonpublic-safety training such as resource management, interpretation and historic preservation courses.

State Parks looked at more than 100 potential locations statewide and found Camp San Luis Obispo to be the best. In addition to its many training facilities, the base is centrally located and adjacent to Cuesta College.

State Parks rangers and lifeguards are fully accredited law enforcement officers. They also play a primary role in revenue generation and protection of cultural and natural resources, said Roy Stearns, department spokesman.

The department has allocated some 650 ranger and lifeguard positions. However, about a third of those, or 200, are vacant due to funding shortfalls.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.

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