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Newhall’s urban cowboy

Ranger Frank, Placerita Canyon park supervisor for 16 years, shifts to Hart Park

Posted: February 11, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Rec. Services Supervisor Frank Hoffman at Wm. S. Hart Park in Newhall on Thursday.

 

“Do you hear that?” Frank Hoffman says, pointing through the trees into the clear sky.

Popping his eyes and rounding his mouth into a tight “O,” he mimicks the call.

Sounding like six fast knocks on hollow wood, Hoffman’s bird call is convincingly similar to the raven’s cry as it flies overhead. Listening, he keeps his pointed finger suspended in air.

“It’s a common raven. That’s a female calling a male,” Hoffman said, holding still in a slightly crouched position with his head tilted toward the trees.

Hoffman, a Canyon Country resident and widely adored local naturalist, was just outside Hart Hall at William S. Hart Park and Museum in Newhall.

Every day, Hoffman finds the interesting in the seemingly common or mundane. All he has to do is step outside.

Now settled in his new location, the Hart Park supervisor previously worked as supervisor at Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Natural Area for about 16 years.

Both parks are Los Angeles County facilities, and a little over a year ago, the county shifted people among the parks to better manage the staff and adjust to budget cuts, Hoffman said.

Though Hoffman’s venue has changed, he still dons his trademark raccoon hat when he feels like getting out with the people and nature.

“I don’t know the reason they reassigned me, other than they needed me here,” he said.

Except for working with the animals — which at Hart Park are of the barnyard variety, not the native variety — Hoffman will hold similar responsibilities at Hart Park to his previous ones at Placerita, but with a few new tasks.

“I’m looking forward to enhancing existing park programming, adding a little of my own flair to it, and creating new programming.”

Hoffman plans to streamline communication among the five entities of Hart Park — the 100 acres of natural area, the barnyard, Bill Hart’s mansion and museum, the Historical Society and the Friends of Hart Park — revamp programming and share his expertise as a naturalist with staff and visitors.

Starting at the entrance of Hart Hall, Hoffman circles the park. He ambles down the uneven dirt path as the yellow-and-brown Saugus Train Station comes into view. The once-operational train station now houses the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society offices.

Noting the Historical Society is one entity at the park, Hoffman said, “Part of my job is to coordinate among them.”

“They say I get along with folks, so they have me work with them,” Hoffman said.

Turning back down the path, he explains the history of the green and blue houses on the lot, some of them a century old.

Rolling out story after story about Santa Clarita history, he continues the walk at a slow pace.

“I want to share knowledge with people, teach them what they should and shouldn’t do,” Hoffman says.

Stopping at the foot of a winding trail, he describes his plans to educate the public on animal safety.

“We live on the urban edge — the point where city and country come together,” he said.

By teaching the public why it’s important not to feed animals or to pick up dead fruit from the ground — because it attracts wild animals — visitors can better manage the environment around them, protecting nature and themselves, Hoffman said.

Education programs were only the start of Hoffman’s plans for the park.

“See, I have to teach the little ones to teach the big ones,” Hoffman said.

He recalled a young Placerita camper correcting his father about the pronunciation of “opossum.”

“He said, ‘It’s an O-possum, Dad, not a possum.’ They never let their parents forget what Ranger Frank said,” Hoffman joked.

For that reason, summer or day camp programs are high on Hoffman’s list of priorities. Along with the Placerita-inspired camps, Hoffman intends to lead twilight hikes, educational family hikes, weekend animal shows and new hiking trails.

By mid-spring, the park will reopen its campground facilities for organized youth groups to stay overnight, Hoffman said.

“There’s a lot to do,” he said, turning suddenly sharp left toward the barnyard.

One of the most important elements that Hoffman brings to the park is his ability to identify and describe his surroundings.

At the barnyard, Hoffman addresses the animals by name and talks about their behaviors.

He points out the drab gray colors of three female pheasants in juxtaposition with the fiery reds and oranges of the males.

“Males have to be more handsome,” Hoffman said. “We also have to be better dancers so that we attract the attention of pretty girls.”

He continues down the line, stopping to talk with a female boar who, he said, had been depressed since her mate died.

“Nothing is ever a problem; it’s just a situation. Even some of the toughest situations can be resolved,” Hoffman said, peering into the boar’s cage. She was soaking in the sun.

Looping back around to Hart Hall, Hoffman decides to bring his raccoon hat out more often.

“I need a new handle now,” Hoffman said, referring to his famous “Ranger Frank” persona at Placerita.

He surveys the surrounding area — the oak trees, the chattering animals in the barnyard, the stone-lined trail to Hart’s mansion, the set of antique houses restored by the Historical Society.

“I’m an urban cowboy!” Hoffman said, throwing his hands up into his gray hair at the excitement of his newfound title.

“People started young with me at Placerita, and they are still here. They’ll come and find me at Hart Park,” he said. “You’ll still see me in my raccoon hat.”

“This is my new home,” Hoffman said, “and when I get a new home, I stay there a long time.”

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