As a college student in the late 1980s I frequently drove from my mom’s house just north of San Francisco to college in Santa Cruz along Highway 1. The drive is stunning. As I studied geology, what I saw slowly gained more meaning. Ah those funny slumping pockets of earth, wow I see them everywhere now, those are landslides. The flat staircase-like mountains, those are ancient ocean floors uplifted by the San Andreas Fault system. I could now see, understand, and interpret the forces of time, water and energy. They work predictably, and create awe-inspiring landscapes.
Park rangers teach people about natural resources and hopefully inspire wonder and desires toward stewardship. That’s what I wanted to do. Being a park ranger is a coveted job. I tried to get one; I ended up volunteering in the National Parks. I was not patient enough with visitors and, surprisingly to me in 1988; my being female was an issue. It did not work out.
Patricia M. Scully was a successful female park ranger in 1975. She had passion for the outdoors and took great joy in teaching people. Her brother Tom Scully says she had a gift and could effectively communicate the world’s natural beauty to even the most recalcitrant park visitor. On May 6, 1976 at the age of 25, she was killed while on duty in a senseless car accident. The driver of a Corvair was driving 80 mph, trying to get airborne, succeeded, and crushed Patty in her State Park truck.
Steve Barber is a State Park Ranger today at Millerton Lakes. This park is crowded and full of partying campers. He too often has to deal with the less inspirational side of being a park ranger and enforce the law. After a hard 9 am to midnight shift, he was decompressing by surfing the web, and found a very short write up about Patricia M. Scully on the “Officer Down Memorial Page.” He noticed there was no commemoration of her death, and decided it was time, about 36 years later, that she is officially honored for her service and her sacrifice. Steve wrote a letter directly to State Senator Leland Yee’s office and started the long and political process of getting a proper memorial for Patty.
On June 1, 2013, thanks to the emotional conviction of a young male park ranger, born after her death, a 4.5-mile stretch of Highway One, just north of San Gregorio State Park, was dedicated to State Park Ranger Patricia M. Scully. The event was a celebration of her life, her dedication to educating the public, and of the State Park Service itself. Containing the accident site, it is the first memorial highway section ever to be dedicated to a California State Park Ranger. She was further honored, by being inducted into the San Mateo County Peace Officer Memorial, on September 25, 2013.
I drove by the “State Park Ranger Patricia M. Scully Memorial Highway” sign last week. It tugged at my heart. This woman had moxy to be one of 18 female park rangers in the state of California in 1976. She could both understand and communicate passionately about nature. I wished I could have known her. I have recently left a stable career path, and taken a more risky turn at starting a business that communicates science and the wonders of nature to the general public. Its been rocky…thoughts of Patty bolstered my resolve. Made me promise to try harder and not give up.
I suddenly understood why we need memorial remembrances. Even in death, perhaps especially in tragic death, people’s stories inspire the living. Without that sign, I would not have known Patty’s story. Thank you Steve Barber. Thank you Patricia M. Scully.