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In his natural habitat

After working in an office for over 30 years, Ron Kraus retired and finally got to do what he wanted

Posted: December 17, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center Association President, Jim Southwell, left, and Vice President Ron Kraus display a docent training program taxidermy teaching tool at the Placerita Nature Center on Thursday.

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Newhall resident Ron Kraus always wanted to be a park ranger. But for decades, real life stifled his desire to work with wildlife in the great outdoors.

“I was diverted into an office and spent 30 years in an office,” said the former city of Los Angeles employee. “When I retired, I finally got to live my dream.”

For the last seven years Kraus, 60, has donated his time as a docent for Placerita Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center.

Docents must complete a nine-week training course, said Kraus, who is also the vice president of the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates.

With formal classroom training — the requirement to lead at least four school tours — a term paper and final exam, Kraus admits that the training is rigorous.

But it’s also fun, he said.

“You have to have a curiosity of nature,” said Docent Jim Southwell of Canyon Country. “We hope to convert the curiosity into a love.”

Topics in the training course include native plants, ecology, insects, amphibians, mammals, history, interpretive techniques and more.

Participants are taught how to lead a class and tour for visiting school groups.

“We try to get (trainees) over their fears and stereotypes of certain animals,” Southwell said. “But someone who wouldn’t touch a snake to save their life, well, they wouldn’t have to.”

Other opportunities include work on the trails, park maintenance, educational school outreaches, information counter work and more.

Southwell, who is the president of the Nature Center Associates, has been a docent for 11 years.

“I was laid off during the aerospace crises in ‘95,” he said. “My wife told me I was depressed and she saw an ad for the (docent) training class.”

Not long after, Southwell found himself taking on the training program. And about one year later, Southwell became president of the Nature Center Associates.

“This is a family,” Southwell said. “You find people care about each other here and you feel at home.”

Because of docent attrition, the park is always in need of new volunteers, Southwell said.

“If we get two people every year who stick with this program, that’s good,” he said.

The Nature Center will begin its next training program in January.


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