Mounted patrol assists park visitors

Published by Steve on

The network of park services in Southern California has a secret weapon for protecting folks visiting any of the parks and trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, Nov 1, 2012

The Mounted Volunteer Patrol (MVP) is a squadron of men and women who ride their horses through the mountain canyons and trails prepared to lend a helping hand to people in a variety of situations.

FAMOUS SPOT—Mounted Volunteer Patrol members Mitzi Roberts, left, and Debbie DiMascio, pause for directions at the Malibu Creek State Park site where the television series “MASH” wasfilmed.

The 35 volunteers are trained to assist the National Park Service, California State Parks and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Debbie DiMascio, a Calabasas resident and a certified Mounted Volunteer Patrol member, has many stories to tell about her work.

For instance, at Malibu Creek State Park DiMascio once came across a pregnant woman who was going into labor.

“She insisted on walking out until she got back to her car,” DiMascio said, adding that the woman turned down the offer of emergency services. So DiMascio made sure the woman and her family got back to their car safely so she could be taken to the hospital.

Another time a girl was injured while riding her horse to Malibu Creek State Park. The novice rider injured her foot and wasn’t able to ride home. DiMascio took the horse back while the girl was picked up in a car so she could get medical treatment.

Two of the most common problems that volunteers encounter are heat exhaustion and “people wiping out on mountain bikes,” said DiMascio, who has volunteered with the patrol since 2006.

“We get to know these mountains inside and out,” DiMascio said. Her partner is her husband, Julian Watson, who became a certified volunteer in 2009.

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area spans 153,075 acres. The recreation area covers 26 ZIP codes and includes Malibu Creek State Park, King Gillette Ranch, Rancho Sierra Vista and Point Mugu State Park.

All MVPs must have their own horse and go through extensive, ongoing training.

Mike Malone, the National Park Service volunteer coordinator, said the three park agencies have a long-standing agreement to support one another within the SMMNRA.

“The MVP was formed in an effort to provide an increased presence to our parkland trails for the benefit of our park visitors and to help ensure the protection of the natural and cultural resources,” Malone said.

He said the volunteer force is often the first on the scene to respond to visitor injuries.

“They are trained in first aid and CPR, and are able to administer what, at times, could be critical first response care,” he said. “However, their most frequent encounters with visitors are in the dispensing of general park information and educational messages when minor violations are observed.”

The volunteers patrol in pairs, Malone said. They carry two-way radios for emergencies. The radios are used when medical help or law enforcement is needed.

“(MVPs) are also great ambassadors in much the same tradition as the mounted park ranger,” Malone said. “They add a welcome measure of comfort and safety as they round the bend and come into (the visitors’) view.”

Wendell Hildebrandt is a retired mounted deputy sheriff who’s been working as a volunteer MVP training coordinator since the inception of the program in 2001. Hildebrandt’s job is to ensure that the volunteers—and their horses—are ready for encounters with the public, from crowd control to helping people who “are not having a happy day.”

Training sessions for volunteers are conducted once a month for four to six hours, Hildebrandt said. Horses must also be certified.

For more information on becoming a Mounted Volunteer Patrol member, visit