On Saturday, the roughly 20-person team got a lesson in “verbal judo,” as Glendale Police Officer Larry Ballesteros called it.
Ballesteros took on the roles of obnoxious people — like a 24-year-old thrill-seeking mountain biker “with 4 ounces of body fat” — and tested the volunteers.
Will Campbell, a freelance editor from Silver Lake, tried to persuade Ballesteros’ biker persona to slow down. But he kept coming at him with attitude. He had a pretend $15,000 bike. He showed Campbell scars from death-defying feats.
“I ain’t afraid of that trail,” Ballesteros said, folding his arms.
“Well, other people may be afraid of you,” Campbell replied in a parental tone.
Ballesteros’ response: “Old people need to get out of the way.”
About 5,000 acres of parkland and open space in Glendale were left unattended by permanent staff after the city laid off its park naturalists due to budget cuts more than a year ago.
That’s where volunteers like Campbell come in. He and 19 other like-minded people have been getting trained by Ballesteros and other law enforcement officials ahead of them entering the field next month.
The volunteers, officially known as the Trail Safety Patrol, won’t be doing everything the naturalists once did — such as leading campfires and interpretive hikes — but they will be there to report on trail conditions, assist in emergencies and advise parkgoers on which trails to use.
Sometimes, though, those parkgoers will want to take young children in flip-flops up a difficult trail, ride a mountain bike too fast or walk their dogs without a leash. It will be the volunteers’ jobs to convince them to change their minds and stay safe.
“Our guys are there to educate,” said Marc Stirdivant, a senior administrative analyst with the city.
If “verbal judo” — or persuading people to do the right thing — doesn’t work, and the situation escalates, volunteers are supposed to walk away and call police.
By watching the trails, the volunteers — who hail from Glendale, Los Angeles, Duarte and other areas — will become experts on how to get around in the city’s hills, a tool that may come in handy during rescues, said Glendale Fire Battalion Chief Ron Gulli.
“You’re going to be our subject matter experts on how to get [around] there and we’re going to use you,” Gulli said.
The volunteers will go out on the trails in Deukmejian Park, San Rafael Hills and Brand Park by foot and bike during daylight hours. After the first group has spent a couple months out in the field, city officials expect to recruit another batch of volunteers. The goal is to reach about 50 volunteers.
“It’s past due,” said volunteer Bob Thompson of Montrose.
The retired postmaster has been hiking with the Sierra Club for years, and he’s excited to share his love of the outdoors with others visiting the local mountains.
Glendale’s trails have had it rough in recent years — from the 2009 Station fire, which scorched the hillsides, to the end of the naturalists program.
Although an official presence on the trails is limited now, the volunteer program can change that, he said.
“It’ll work,” Thompson said. “This is just the beginning.”