From the August 2021 issue of the Angeles National Forest Volunteer Newsletter.
Recently we had a chance to sit down with Forest Service Volunteer Liaison Mike Paniagua (virtually of course!) and asked some questions about what he does in the Angeles National Forest and what it’s like working with and assisting volunteers.
Beth: Okay Mike, so first things first, I have to ask… How do you pronounce your last name?
Mike: Wow, that's a great question (chuckles), I get asked that all the time. It’s pronounced “Pawn-ee-augwa.”
Beth: What is your job title?
Mike: Assistant Recreation Officer / Volunteer Liaison
Beth: What are your current duties? What is a typical workday like?
Mike: I supervise 9 Recreation Technicians. I see that the staff has the tools to maintain and develop recreation areas for public use. This includes repairing infrastructure, painting over graffiti, picking up trash and cleaning restrooms among many others.
Beth: How long do you anticipate you will be in this position?
Mike: It's hard to predict but I hope to be in this position for at least 3 more years or until I retire.
Beth: What group/s do you liaison for?
Mike: My volunteer groups include Restoration Legacy, SoCal Trail Builders, Lowe Life Respectable Citizens, MWBA, JPL Trail Builders, Tujunga Trail Posse, Friends of Echo Mountain and PCTA.
Beth: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a Forest Service Worker?
Mike: I remember I took a test in junior high school and it said I would be a firefighter. When I joined the Texas Canyon Hotshot crew, I knew I wanted to work for the Forest Service.
Beth: Have you worked for any other government agencies?
Mike: After high school I joined the Army for 4 years where I worked as an X Ray technician.
Beth: What is the most exciting part of your job?
Mike: The most exciting part of the job is developing a plan and executing it. When it doesn’t work my team adapts and fights for success in the end. That’s a good feeling.
Beth: Is there a part of your job that is particularly frustrating?
Mike: There are so many positives in my position that I try not to focus on the negatives. I have a great supervisor and leadership team including my staff.
Beth: What is your favorite part of the forest?
Mike: Mt Gleason, near Lightning Point. It sits at 6,500 feet and on a clear day you can see freight liners on the Pacific Ocean. Then you do an about face and you have a grand view of the Mojave Desert. That’s the best lunch spot in the Angeles.
Beth: What are you looking forward to in your job as all work and social distancing restrictions are lifted?
Mike: Our recreation areas including trails, saw an increase of over 400% during the pandemic. It was definitely a struggle to provide a quality product for the public. With everything opening up now and Volunteers back on the trails we are looking forward to a more manageable forest.
Beth: Tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t guess.
Mike: I have a twin sister named Michele. We can read each other’s minds and even move objects.
Beth: Do you have a “trail name” or nickname?
Mike: No, but a few of my friends who had trouble saying my last name would just call me “Penny.”
Beth: Where is the most exciting/interesting natural place you have visited?
Mike: I once spent 3 months in the jungle in Caisan, Panama. There were monkeys eating bananas in trees and fireflies at night. You could sit on somebody’s porch and eat a chicken dinner with rice and beans for $1.25. That was cool.
Beth: If you had one or two wishes, what would they be?
Mike: I think I could have been a good actor. Starring in a few movies and in love scenes with Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez. Yeah.
Beth: Well thank you for your time, Mike. This was very insightful and always interesting learning more about those who work side by side with us.
Mike: You’re very welcome. Hope everyone enjoys!