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Alumni & Friends

An Office with a View


Photo of alumnus Frank Dean. Photo by Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle."Being able to manage places like Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands and making them available for everyone is really rewarding," says Frank Dean. — Photo by Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle.

In a way, a little bird at SF State told Frank Dean (B.A., ’77) that he had a future in the park service. Dean was still an undergrad when he received an invitation to help rehabilitate an injured sparrowhawk in the biology depart- ment’s solarium. For Dean, nursing the small bird of prey back to health was not only a rewarding experience, it also introduced him to fellow volunteer Jim Milestone (B.A.,’76; M.A., ’79), who talked enthusiastically about his summer job as a park ranger.

"I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!’" recalls Dean. "It checked all the boxes for me -- living in beautiful places, being outside and working with people." Inspired, Dean made a monthly pilgrimage to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s personnel office. "Eventually I wore them down, and they hired me to work the summer on Alcatraz," he says.

Since then, Dean has been a ranger at Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Grand Canyon national parks, and served in management roles at Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Saratoga National Historical Park and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Today, as superintendent of the GGNRA, he oversees a group of iconic sites totaling more than 80,000 acres, including Alcatraz, Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands.

The GGNRA has 14.5 million visitors annually, and dogs off-leash has been a hot topic this year. Dean led a planning process that would make the GGNRA the only national park to create off-leash zones. In other efforts, Dean is collaborating with various agencies to establish a new visitors’ pavilion for the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary in 2012. He strategizes regularly with neighboring state parks to reduce the impact of state budget cuts and is helping pilot "healthy parks" initiatives, asking vendors to sell nutritious foods and encouraging doctors to write prescriptions for hikes in the park to improve patients’ health.

The San Diego native is glad he made the trek north for his education. "It was transformative for me to come up here. The Bay Area has always had a strong environmental focus and my professors followed up on that. They were very inspiring," he says, recalling the influence of geography faculty Max Kirkeberg, Hans Meihoefer and the late Georg Treichel.

Milestone, his former classmate, now park superintendent of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, says that Dean’s job isn’t always a walk in the park, so to speak, but Dean’s integrity and his diplomatic skills have helped him succeed. "If you’re working in the National Park Service in a manager’s job, it’s very political. It takes a real skilled hand to deal with the controversies."


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