July 24, 2008

Couple Share Love of Parks and Nature

By Ramon Coronado, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 24--Steve and Marilee Flannery share a passion for the outdoors and wildlife. They ride their bicycles to work when they can, and they wear the same uniform. The husband-and-wife team works for the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks.

At age 56, Steve has been a park ranger for 30 years and is now the county's chief ranger, supervising nearly two dozen rangers who enforce the law across 14,000 acres of park land.

Marilee runs the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. As interpretive supervisor, she directs three full-time employees, 25 seasonal workers and 200 volunteers who promote and inspire reverence for Sacramento's natural and cultural resources.

"I wanted to be a ranger, but the prospects of being a female ranger were not very encouraging back then," Marilee said of the early 1970s.

Since her father was a ranger in California state parks in and around Humboldt County, she was raised in campgrounds from about age 5. "I thought every tree was a redwood," said Marilee, 52. "It was a big deal to go to town. Going to Eureka was like going to New York City."

Her family moved to Sacramento when she was in the sixth grade. Later, she combined what she described as her "true loves" -- graduating from California State University, Sacramento,with a major in fine art and a minor in biology.

As an accomplished artist, she drew animals and nature scenes, but her first job was at the Sacramento Science Center, where she worked for 15 years, giving talks and leading tours.

For the past 15 years, she has worked for the county parks system. "I really like working with children and sharing nature," she said.

"Parks are in my heart."

A love of nature also is in the hearts of the Flannerys' two children, Colleen, 27, a media specialist with the Sierra Club, and Joseph, 25, a former ranger who works as a resource biologist at Yellowstone National Park.

"We have never been to Disneyland as a family. Instead, we went to national and state parks," mom Marilee said.

The outdoors and wildlife long have been important to Steve Flannery, a Sacramento resident since he was 5. His first job was as a seasonal aide for the state Fish and Game Department in 1977.

The couple married in 1979, after he earned a degree in biological conservation at Sacramento State. The same year, Steve was hired as a park ranger, a job he kept until being promoted to chief ranger last year.

"I really love the hands-on feeling you get from protecting an area you really love," he said.

Protecting parks can be filled with the unexpected. Years ago, he aided a deputy sheriff pursuing a burglary suspect who had run from Rancho Cordova into the American River Parkway.

The chase ended with the suspect taking a fatal leap into the river. "He had heavy motorcycle boots on," Steve recalled. "With my gun drawn, I yelled, 'Don't jump.' He jumped, and he sank fast. He drowned, but his body wasn't recovered until a year and half later."

But the lawbreakers who really get under Steve's skin are those who commit what he calls "resource crimes." People such as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter J. McBrien, who on Oct. 27, 2000, pleaded no contest to cutting trees in the American River Parkway to enhance the view from his backyard. He paid $20,000 in restitution.

"I really dislike it when people get away with that type of crime," Steve said. "You have to stay on top of it, but there is a lot to keep an eye on," he said of the 4,600 parkway acres that border the American River.

One way the Flannerys keep an eye on the parkway is by biking to work as often as three times a week. From their Fair Oaks home, he bicycles to his Bradshaw Road office near Kiefer Boulevard and she to her office in Ancil Hoffman Park.

On the trip home, "we meet on the parkway," Steve said.


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