Reminiscing Rancho del Oso

The thirty year celebration banner at the Nature and History Center reminded me that I have been volunteering for twenty five years. When I retired, I envisioned sitting at my desk with a pile of books, finishing one and starting another. Instead, I enrolled in Diane West Bourke’s Nature and History class at Foothill College. Diane was the resident naturalist at Rancho del Oso (RDO), and I soon found my way there as an inquisitive volunteer. At a board meeting, I met Hulda Hoover McLean and learned that RDO had been her home.

The Hoover family bought this land around the time of World War I, and after the war spent summers on the property. When school was over, her father left Stanford (where he worked), loaded up wagons with supplies, and made the two day trek to the coast with his wife and three daughters. They roamed free on this beautiful land. Years went by, they grew up, married, but still maintained their connections to the land. Hulda Hoover McLean and her husband built their home on the site of the Nature and History Center and raised their children at RDO.

As time went on, her family moved away, Hulda became a widow, and she worried about how RDO could be maintained as both a family area and shared with the public. Thus, began negotiations with Sempervirens Fund, whose mission was to raise funds to purchase private land that was in danger of becoming developed, and keeping it as nature intended. Hulda sold a right-of-way that allowed public access from Castle Rock State Park through Big Basin, and down to the coast of RDO on what came to be known as the Skyline to the Sea Trail. At the same time, the Hoover land remained in family hands.

Hulda did not find that selling the land lessened her interest in being totally involved in its future. State Parks was the logical land steward, and they moved a mobile residence on site with a prefab building that became the ranger station. When I came on the scene, the resident ranger was close to retirement and not receptive to volunteer help. Hulda wanted to help, and decided if he could not spend hours every weekend in the ranger station, she would provide volunteers. She set up their duties, and found a way to get access to keys. However, there seemed to be a problem with who should have keys.

Not to be discouraged, Hulda acquired a key to the ranger station, bought a fake (hide-a-key) rock, and plunked it in the dirt by the front door. We were all given instructions about where to find it. I’m not sure how the ranger thought we all got in, but he did not seem to discover the rock until two years later. When he did find it, he was upset, but Hulda just picked it up and placed it by the front gate. Maybe it is still there; I haven’t looked in years.

A new ranger came on board, and liked the idea of volunteer help, so she put up the key box that still works so efficiently. I don’t know if Hulda was the first with the volunteer idea. A few years ago, at a thank you lunch for coastal volunteers, we were told that in our area alone, volunteer hours would cost the park service twenty million dollars a year without their help. So, I am glad that I am not just sitting at my desk with a mountain of books. Volunteers make a difference, provide a public service, and learn a lot about RDO. If you want to help, let us know.

—Joyce Rosenstiel