© a Quinn Martin production
Lots of you have been asking what you can do to help. This year's resolution is to affect change on The Angeles and take back OUR forest. I will have an online petition circulating soon. Thanks everybody.

Introduction:
I originally wanted to blog about my adventures in the San Gabriel Mountains. I have some good stories, like the time I took a donkey to Ralph's Supermarket. But then the Station Fire started. I realized that there is much that needs to be brought to the attention of the mountain going public. Most folks are kept in the dark about how the Angeles National Forest operates. I will raise issues that are important to me, which are hopefully important to all citizens, but if you have any suggestions for discussion here, I am willing.

Here's the big agenda: Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron. I've made a few smart remarks and cryptic comments about her. But now, with the backing of some knowledgeable and trusted friends, it is time for a concerted effort to have her removed from her post. Stay tuned for details. And if you have any information you would like to contribute, anonymously or not, email me at gregsweet4@yahoo.com

I will get to some of the stories, sooner or later. Also, I want to make it clear that I no longer work at Adams' Pack Station, that these words are my own, and that the pack station is not the source of my information - they don't want trouble.

Say Goodnight George

I finally made it back to LA (and internet access) a couple days ago, and when I returned I found out that The Angeles National Forest had lost one of its most dedicated caretakers: George Geer. He passed away unexpectedly.

George was a forestry major in junior college, and had worked for the City of San Gabriel Parks and Recreation Department before joining the Forest Service at age 22. He was initially stationed at Chilao and was put to work fighting a five-acre fire on his first day on the job. George worked on The Angeles for over 35 years and was a familiar figure to anyone who has spent time in the forest. Much of his time was spent as a Fuels Reduction Officer. He made sure campers had safe fires and inspected the camps and cabins for compliance with fire clearance regulations. But George always went beyond the call of duty. I used to see him in the turnouts of the Chantry Flat road picking up cigarette butts and painting over graffiti, whereas the man who now holds his position never gets out of his truck, let alone hike to the campgrounds and cabins. George was the last of the old garde.

I first met George before I knew anything about the San Gabriel Mountains. I wanted to explore the trails near my Altadena home so I went up the street and camped at Millard Campground for a few days. Early one morning, before I got out of my sleeping bag, a man banged on my tent and told me to get out. I didn't know what to make of that so I ignored him. He banged again and said he needed to talk to me. Cautiously I got out of my tent and was confronted with the man I came to know as George Geer. He pointed at my fire ring and asked "What is that?" It seemed obvious to me that it was a fire ring, but not wanting to sound like a smart-ass I just said "What do you mean?" Before going to bed I had put a log in the ring that was slightly too big and he was fussing over the six-inch piece that had fallen out overnight. It was a little singed and cold and there was nothing around but dirt. It could not have caused a forest fire, but it was poor fire etiquette and George was mad (or so it seemed). He told me to clean it up so I picked up the chunk of wood and put it in the fire ring; job done. But George had different ideas. He came back from his truck with a rake and shovel and made me clean not only around the fire ring, but my whole campsite. Frankly, I was glad to have the tools to clean up the area, but I let him have his moment of "punishing" me. He was really just trying to educate me.

The following is a story in George's own words from the book The Angeles Was Our Home: Recollections of Life on the Angeles National Forest by Norma Rowly...

Mustard Off The Hot Dog

In the early '80s I was having trouble with my new boss regarding my taking my black lab companion of four years, Freedom, on patrol. It was "suggested" that she should no longer accompany me.

I started on my early morning patrol to the mesa above Angeles Crest Station to see what the late-night friends of the forest had left behind. Freedom was enjoying her daily fight with the bushes that got too close to the truck. This was a daily ritual for her. Since an attack the bushes made on her nose while she was sleeping on Juanita Romero's lap with her head out the window years earlier, she had never forgotten.

When we reached the mesa, two parked cars and four or five teenagers were next to a safe, but illegal, bar-b-que. The rest of the mesa was strewn with beer cans and other debris from the night before.

As I approached the kids, I told Freedom, who was standing tall and erect in the hose basket she had adopted as hers, "Alert!" I had seen this somewhere on TV, and since a few people had asked me if she were trained, I used the ploy on questionable contacts.

The young visitors were eating their freshly cooked hamburgers and hot dogs. Still more were heating up on the grill. They passed the attitude test and apologized for their misdeeds. I told them they could choose between a citation or help put something back into their forest by cleaning the mesa. I took their ID's and began writing up warning notices.

As I finished my write-up, I looked around for Freedom. She was nowhere to be found. I quickly called her name and within seconds she came from behind the cars.She looked at me somewhat sheepishly with her tongue out and was trying to lick the mustard that was all over her muzzle.

I was dead! I walked around the kids' cars and my worst fears were realized. The food - every bit of it, even the food on the grill - was gone. I knew that would be the end of Freedom's days on patrol. What was I going to tell the boys, and my boss?

As the kids came back I told them what had happened and offered to pay for the food. Luckily, they all laughed and thought it was justice for what they had done.


George was stern, but always tried to be fair.

Another story I have about George involves fire clearance. The owners of cabins #116 & #117 in Winter Creek had hired me to do the fire clearance around their cabins. I was weed-whacking around #117 when George came down the trail. He had been cleaning Hoegee's Campground. He had his usual list of criticisms and suggestions on how to do the clearance better. I told him I would take care of the details and he went on his way, but not before reminding me to trim the Vinca around the outhouse.

The next day, as I was picking up manure from the front of the barn at Adams' Pack Station, George showed up and leaned on the corral fence and looked at me. I said hello, but he just stared at me - angrily. I asked him "What's wrong?" and he said "You told me you would clean around that outhouse." I told him that I did and he said "No you didn't. I was just there." It turns out George had actually hiked back in that morning to examine my work; a three mile round trip just to check on me. So he marched me back in, one and a half miles with a weed-whacker, to finish the job. When we got to the cabins I realized that we were each thinking of a different outhouse. Without getting into the details, I had only cleaned the area belonging to the people that paid me, and I left alone the neighboring cabin - the cabin that claims, and in fact has the keys for, the outhouse in question. Of course, since I was already there on a special trip with a weed-whacker, and since I didn't have the nerve to argue with George, I cleaned around the outhouse while George watched. Looking back I realize he was mad because he always did what needed to be done whether he was technically getting paid for it or not.

A lot of cabin owners didn't like George because he made them work harder than they wanted to, or pay for others to work more than they wanted. But they didn't realize that he was just wanted what was best for the cabins. He (unlike Jody Noiron & Marty Dumpis) loved the cabins, and camps like Sturtevant's, and did everything he could to protect them from wildfire. Somewhere between the lackadaisical attitude of the cabin owners and George's extreme standards the cabins were reasonably well protected.

George often got reprimanded by his superiors, like the time he took it upon himself to hire "jail crews" to clean up Chantry Flat. They cut all the tall grass, pruned dead limbs and cleared Poison Oak. He only did these things because it was what the forest needed, and because he cared about the experience of the public. If someone told him "no" and he knew better, he would find a way to get it done anyway. The results were always good and I don't think he ever got into serious trouble. Nobody could argue with George's knowledge, productivity, and devotion to his job.

A couple three years ago George turned 55 years of age and they took him out of the field; this is supposedly Forest Service policy. Shortly after this I did a major clean-up and fire clearance around the pack station. I cut down California Bay trees, cleared a dumpster-full of Poison Oak, and raked the duff down to dirt. When owner Deb Burgess saw what I had done she was a little shocked; it had to be done, but it was a shocking difference. I jokingly (and affectionately) named it the George Geer Memorial Desert.

Admittedly, George was a hot-head and blurred the bounds of propriety, but he loved the Angeles National Forest as much as anyone ever has and his motives were always to protect and serve. The Angeles needs more people like him. The current management rarely come out off their offices and don't like to get out of their trucks. I challenge you to find a tan on any one of those people. George was a true patrolman. The story above about the hot dogs refers to the mesa above the station where the Station Fire started. I guarantee you if George Geer were on patrol when a crazy man was seen pushing a shopping cart up & down the Angeles Crest Highway that fire never would have happened.

I don't know for sure how George died, other than "natural causes", and I have heard that it was a heart attack, but I can't help but think that maybe the worst thing for him was to put him behind a desk. Patrolling the mountains, visiting friends and educating the public were his passions. I have heard stories of men who lose their will to live when their life's work is finished. I don't know this to be the case, I hadn't seen George in quite a while to know if he was happy, but it does make me wonder.

UPDATE:

As soon as I posted this I got word from Deb at Adams' Pack Station, who went to the memorial service, and she told me that George committed suicide in his car. In her words: "We all believe in our hearts that George found himself lost when he was forced to resign."

6 comments:

firsttracks said...

REMEMBERING GEORGE GEER
George’s nickname may have been low gear GEER. But once George exited his truck, he was always in high gear. His frenetic pace reminded me of that character in the Peanuts cartoons that always had a dust cloud following him around. And indeed quite often there was a dust cloud following George around.
George taught children to respect, preserve and protect the Forest when he was Smokey. I learned those same lesions by watching George in the field. His grimy face and sweat stained clothes showed you that there was no task to dirty, long or hard for George if he thought it would make the Forest better and safer. And, his decisions and actions proved he cared more about the Forest than his job.
George was old school because of that ideal image he saw as a child of the Forest Ranger with his boots on the ground protecting the Forest. He became that protector because of that ideal and because of the examples he had at the beginning and through his career.
There was a patrolman on this Forest when George began his career by the name of Red Shangraw. Red gave the Forest Supervisor a citation, because Red cared more about the Forest than he did his job.
George worked with and for a District Ranger, Terry Ellis. Terry paid a very dear price for being old school, for caring more about the Forest and caring more about people who worked for him than he did his career.
George worked alongside another old school patrolman whose first allegiance was to protecting the Forest. I mustn’t tell you any stories about Wild Will Shaw because Will is still with us. But he, like George and the others, proved their integrity by their actions.
The story about George that I will recall and recant often, the story that made me and others respect George the most, is the story of The Fourth of July.
On the day and evening when the Forest is most at risk.
On the day and evening when the Forest is most venerable to fire.
On the day and evening when the Fire Prevention Officer’s job is most acute,
George was told that he could not be in the field protecting his beloved Front Country.
George was told to stay home. Well, despite that probation, George was in the field that Fourth of July with his boots on the ground, franticly driving from here to there making sure everything possible had been done to make the Forest safe. George paid a price for that decision, but in the end George won.
George and Will and Terry and Red, they all won. They won because they lived their dream. They won because they could leave this Forest with their heads held high. And bittersweet though it may have been, they could leave this Forest with something the individuals who made their lives tougher and possibly shorter did not and will not leave with. Because these gentlemen left this Forest being held in the highest esteem by their colleagues and with the sincere gratitude from the public whose lands they protected.
I hope that we can take some solace in our grief in knowing that though there were unnecessary nightmares along the way, George lived his dream with his boots on the ground protecting the Forest he loved.
This Forest, and especially his Front Country is a better place because George was here. We who knew him will best pay homage to his memory by emulating his example.
Thanks George, you won, God Speed
John Grancich fst@dslextreme.com

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I've read through the entire post. Such a lovely tribute. I want to see a return to "old school" practices. Keep up the good fight

Cafe Observer said...

It's the few people like him who try to hold on the fundamentals, keep up the standards, who most of us take for granted or even w/o a thought.


When he was taken out of fieldwork I assume his main purpose for living was taken also.

Kiley said...

I'm glad I found your bog.

I did some "volunteer work" back in the early 1990s. The opportunity was there to work in one of my favorite place.... The San Gabriels. George Geer was in charge and I reported every Saturday to the old Oak Grove Station. My job was simple. George would drive me up to a trailhead. I had trashbags in hand. I was to remove anything along the trail that "did not belong there." I asked ... "even natural biodegradable stuff like banana/orange peels?". George reminded me that there are no orange and banana trees in the San Gabriels. I'll never forget that. I also remember another job. The job involved trudging up to a campsite (can't remember where) to put in some new signs and posts. I was 21 and George was at least twice my age. Metal posts and a bag of cement. I thought I was in good shape, but the man twice and I thought in my head ... "slow down".

I may be thinking fuzzy, but I recall asking him about a career in his field. I remember sitting in his office at Oak Grove. I do not recall him speaking highly of the current situation at that time of the USFS in the ANF.

I remember being amazed at his work ethic and stamina.I didn't work under George for very long, but I remember him well and he definitely made an impression on me. It saddens me to hear of his passing and the possible reason as to his passing.

Thank you Mr. Geer!

Anonymous said...

R.I.P.....you always were and will be one of the BEST to ever walk on this earth....and to walk with God....as you helped do His will...throughout the forest and throughout and within soooo many hearts! You're in a much better place where all TRUE angels belong!

Anonymous said...

3 years pretty soon...I'm sure Heaven's forests are amazing...thanks for "being there" to welcome Berwin...May God continue to bless and be with you both...and vis versa. :)