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Nature’s latest local companion

Longtime resident takes job as superintendent at Placerita Canyon center

Posted: January 21, 2011 9:35 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2011 4:30 a.m.

Russell M. Kimura, a longtime ranger who has more than two decades of experience working with nature, was recently named park superintendent for Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Natural Area has a new face.

This face doesn’t have a beak or feathers, and it doesn’t pull inside a shell when it perceives danger.

The face belongs to the center’s new regional park Superintendent Russell M. Kimura. He has taken the helm of Santa Clarita Valley’s oldest natural area.

After 25 years of park experience working under sunny Southern California skies, Kimura knows the one thing that makes his job special: his office isn’t inside, but outside, with 333 acres of shaded oak groves and a stream lined with sycamores.

“There are times when the phone doesn’t stop ringing,” he said. “You have to make time to get outside because it gets crazy.

“I make time. The most important thing is to be outside,” he said. “It’s important to actually be in the park, making sure the picnic tables are clean, making sure the entrance way is clean, the restrooms are clean.”
Veteran park work

Kimura has worked outside, from Northridge to the ocean.

A graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, he’s worked most recently for the California Department of Parks and Recreation as a supervising ranger for the Office of Community Development.

He’s been a state park ranger patrolling the hills inside the Santa Monica Mountains District, protecting some of the country’s most beautiful pieces of real estate such as Malibu Lagoon State Park, Topanga State Park and the Will Rogers State Historic Park.

Now, he’s at a county park. And already he’s impressed, he said.

Volunteer power
Three weeks into his new post, Kimura wasted no time giving credit where credit is due.

“Without our volunteers, we could not be providing this service,” he said, describing center volunteers as organized, efficient and professional.

“You don’t find that in most volunteer organizations.”

Kimura, a 25-year resident of Valencia, made other friends inside his two short weeks here — all the park animals, some in cages, many of them not.

“We had a mountain lion sighting here Christmas Day,” he said.

Other testaments to the real-life wild existence inside the park include finding the odd rattlesnake, he said.

As a result, one of his first jobs was gathering signs to warn visitors to be aware of the wildlife around them.

As for critters inside the center, many of them recently crawled, slithered or fluttered into new homes created as part of the center’s remodeling.

New green digs
Although the nature center is 40 years old, Kimura stepped into relatively new digs the day he officially started work.

The center recently underwent an extensive 30-month-long makeover, including new fire-retardant roofs, dual-pane windows and skylights.

Now, visitors learn about the environment inside 5,000 square feet of new building space with a brand-new classroom and lab.

“It’s fantastic,” Kimura said, looking up at the exposed rustic beams supporting a brand-new roof.

“You couldn’t ask any more from a work place,” he said.

High on the county’s priorities for the reconstruction was turning the nature center into an award-winning “green” facility.

In September, the Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Natural Area received from the U.S. Green Building Council a silver-rated certification for its environmental friendliness.|

The center on Placerita Canyon Road was originally built in 1971. The recent renovations propelled it into the new millennium of efficiency and sustainability.

“We are a LEED building, and we are unique,” Kimura said, referring to the building council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award. “We’re the lead for other parks to follow.”

Besides Nature Center improvements, renovations include a new roof at Walker Cabin and exterior restorations, as well as  a new potable water system at Walker Ranch Campground and a pedestrian bridge with enhanced accessibility.

Renovations also include accessibility upgrades, energy and water conservation features such as energy-efficient air conditioning and cooling systems, exterior building wall insulations, renovated rest rooms, windows and doors, court yard and interior remodeling.

“We are the future of what other parks are going to gravitate to,” Kimura said.


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