– Edward Abbey
As I tread the trails of our East County parks, my musings rarely gravitate to the people who made those trails possible. My attention is usually drawn to ridges and arroyos, oaks and owl’s clover, the screech of golden eagles and the stealth of coyotes – things that were here long before the Miwok or Volvon, let alone the white man. It’s easy to consider the trail a mere ribbon of dirt – essential, but not scenic in its own right.
But that ribbon of dirt doesn’t materialize on its own. It’s planned, funded, plowed and maintained by the efforts of many. They immerse themselves in hard work so we can immerse ourselves in play – the serious and joyful play of hiking, cycling, horseback riding, backpacking, camping and fishing. Without their vision, dedication and sheer elbow grease, our lives would be immeasurably poorer.
The late Roger Epperson was one of them. If making jewelry was his hobby, cobbing and polishing the jewels of our East County landscape was his calling. Epperson supervised Round Valley, Black Diamond Mines and Morgan Territory regional preserves for the East Bay Regional Park District, having joined EBRPD back in 1979. You might not have heard of Roger Epperson before now, but if the district’s parks occupy a special place in your heart, you’ve seen him all over the place.
We lovers of East Bay scenery lost a friend and ally last Dec. 8, when Epperson, 54, died in a kayaking accident off the Big Island of Hawaii. He is survived by his wife, Carol Alderdice, who serves as a ranger at the Martinez Regional Shoreline.
Of the many impressions Epperson made on his co-workers, two stand out: hard work and perfectionism. According to Black Diamond Mines Supervising Naturalist Traci Parent, who worked with Epperson for nearly 30 years, “When it was too cold or 110 degrees, too muddy, in pouring rain, Roger was out there working with his rangers.”
One of those rangers, Rex Caufield, was recently named to Epperson’s supervisory post at the district’s three East County parks. He confirmed Parent’s remembrance of Epperson as a man who loved laboring in the field. “He was forced to put in more time at the office in recent years,” said Caufield. “But he was proud of his work establishing or expanding the backpack campsites at Round Valley, Morgan Territory and Black Diamond Mines.”
Epperson’s perfectionism, recalled Parent, wasn’t limited to smoothing out a rutted trail or designing an ergonomically ideal campsite. “He even made sure the pictures on the office wall were hung straight. … Black Diamond Mines started out pretty primitive, but Roger helped make it exceptional. He was intimately involved in the details.”
Epperson understood that preservation and maintenance are a package deal, that drawing boundaries around wilderness (“land doesn’t protect itself,” as he put it) is only the first step. Wilderness must be made available to enjoy. It’s not enough that the land should be lovable in the abstract; we must be allowed to love it – up close and personal.
A short surfing expedition on the Web will get you the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of those in positions of legislative and executive authority. Make a call; knock off an e-letter; tell those public servants how much your parks mean to you, how much they can mean to your grandchildren.
And most of all: get out there. Honor the legacy of Roger Epperson by climbing the cascading sandstone of Black Diamond Mines’ Chaparral Loop after a February rain or watching the violet salvoes of Ithuriel’s spear explode in Round Valley’s Hardy Canyon in May. Morgan Territory is nearby and yet remote. From its Prairie Falcon ledge you can see hills stippled with the crowns of blue oak rise like stairs toward the dais of Mt. Diablo.
Just get out there. Who knows? Maybe you’ll run across a park service worker, perhaps someone who knew and was inspired by Roger Epperson. Thank that person – for all of us.