Ranger veteran retiring from Auburn State Recreation Area

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
-A +A

Retirement for Auburn State Recreation Area supervising ranger Scott Liske means an opportunity for something new to him but not necessarily to too many other people.

“I’ve earned a summer vacation — finally,” Liske said.

For 15 years as a State Parks ranger in the 35,000-acre recreation area, Liske has patrolled canyon areas above the north and middle forks of the American River that are both scenic and dangerous. Timing of shifts is dictated when the most people will be in the park.

“The last 4th of July I had off was in 1985,” Liske said. “Part of being a ranger is working holidays and weekends. When most of society is off, I’m working.”

So this coming summer and retirement will mean Liske will have time for experiencing what others were experiencing while he was working as a ranger. That means the freedom to travel inside the U.S. and overseas, he said. April 30 will be his last patrol day.

Now 56, Liske started his career with the state in 1985 as a Cal Fire seasonal firefighter. During the summer fire season, Liske was stationed near Angel’s Camp off Highway 49, working there for seven fire seasons. Coincidentally, the last two digits of his badge number are “49” and he’s been working out of the State Parks office on Highway 49 at Auburn since 2003.

Liske was on the groundbreaking Morris Fire near Monterey that burned several homes along 17-Mile Drive. That fire changed Cal Fire actions during fires toward protecting structures as well as lives.

Moving over to serve a four-year stint as a state correctional officer at maximum security Folsom Penitentiary, Liske was planning to continue with Cal Fire, after hiring resumed.

But with an opportunity for State Parks ranger training opening up, Liske again moved over to a different state job in 1997. His first assignment was at Folsom Lake Recreation Area and a transfer to Auburn came in 2003.

The recreation area’s tragedies, quirky stories and political donneybrooks over building an Auburn dam would be chronicled in 2005 by former recreation area ranger Jordan Fisher Smith in the book “Nature Noir.”

Liske said he is asked on occasion about when he’ll write his book about park experiences.

“I could,” Liske said. “There a lot here that could be put into one.”

Some of the oddest tales in Fisher Smith’s book dealt with the 730-foot-high Foresthill Bridge — the highest bridge in California and fourth highest in the nation. Liske estimates that he’s been called to 19 fatal leaps off the bridge, including one afternoon when a man jumped and then — about an hour later — a woman who had no knowledge of the first jump made a second fatal plunge off the span.

“And there have been countless drownings and fatalities,” Liske said. “It’s an unfortunate part of the Auburn State Recreation Area.”

Liske said he has gained particular enjoyment during the times when he has led walks like last new year’s day’s First Day tour of the confluence area that brought out 100 people.

Above and beyond his normal duties, Liske said he’s proud of accomplishments like adding enclosed kiosk buildings at four locations in the park — Mammoth Bar, Upper Lake Clementine, Lower Lake Clementine and the confluence — that increase employee comfort and provide better security for visitors.

Liske also led an effort to identify all gated entrances to the park along Foresthill Road with numbers. That not only has made it easier for emergency personnel to be dispatched by provides a simple meeting location for trail hikes and other activities.

The future of the park is in good hands with Superintendent Mike Howard, a former river guide, understanding its function as a river-oriented facility, Liske said.

But State Parks and government officials should be cognizant of the rapid growth in park user numbers that Liske said can be attributed to social media spreading the word. That means keeping hiring up and equipment upgraded, he said.

“Up until 10 years ago, the recreation area was off the radar for most people,” Liske said. “People took selfies next to an incredible river scene or sunset and that changed things.”