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Couple United By Outdoors

July 31, 2008

By Ramon Coronado, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 31–Steve and Marilee Flannery share a passion for the outdoors and wildlife. They ride bicycles to work when they can, and they wear the same uniforms.

The husband-and-wife team works for Sacramento County’s 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 laws in 14,000 acres of park land.

Marilee, the daughter of a ranger, runs the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. As its interpretive supervisor, she directs three full-time employees, 25 seasonal workers and 200 volunteers who promote and inspire a 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,” she said.

Her family moved to Sacramento when she was in the sixth grade. Later, at California State University, Sacramento, she combined what she described as her “true loves” — graduating 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 last 15 years, she has worked for the county parks system, where she is the only interpretive supervisor.

“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,” said mom Marilee.

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.

After he earned a degree in biological conservation at Sacramento State, the couple married in 1979.

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 also can be filled with the unexpected. Years ago, he aided a sheriff’s deputy pursuing a burglary suspect who had run from Rancho Cordova into the American River Parkway. The chase ended in a confrontation and the suspect taking a fatal leap into the river.

“He had heavy motorcycle boots on,” the chief ranger 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.”

A bird-watcher near Sacramento Bar, where Sunrise Boulevard crosses the river, glimpsed what appeared to be pants in the water. Forensic tests confirmed that the remains found were those of the burglary suspect.

But the criminals 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. The judge paid $20,000 in restitution.

“Those cases are hard to prove. You just can’t go to court with the guy who benefits the most from the enhanced view. You need more,” Steve said.

“I really dislike it when people get away with that type of crime. 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.

“She rides. I ride,” Steve said.

On the trip home, “we meet on the parkway,” he said.

To learn about activities at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, go to www.effieyeaw.org.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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