Environment / Nature

Pinnacles superintendent tells of her journey to San Benito

Blanca Alvarez Stransky brings 34 years of parks experience.
Reservoir in Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Reservoir in Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Juvenile California Condor. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Juvenile California Condor. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

When Blanca Alvarez Stransky became superintendent at Pinnacles National Park nine months ago, she felt like she had “come home.” Born in Eloy, a rural farming town in Arizona, Stransky spent 34 years working for the National Park Service and has served in 10 parks throughout her tenure. Before returning west, she oversaw the District of Columbia’s George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Stransky began her career in her home state working as an interpreter at Grand Canyon National Park. During her life with NPS, she served in several western parks including Zion and the USS Arizona National Memorial where she helped organize an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She interviewed for her position in Denali National Park and Preserve while flying over its 12 million acres in a Cessna plane.

In high school, Stransky once had an assignment to sew a historic flag; she made Oliver Hazard Perry’s War of 1812 “don’t give up the ship” flag partly out of her younger siblings’ cloth diapers. Years later, she would work at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in Ohio and helped organize the bicentennial anniversary of the war. “Don’t give up the ship” became a motto for her and one she still believes in. 

After five years in Washington D.C., Stransky wanted to get back to rural America. Before coming to the Pinnacles, she said the only things she knew about the area were the condor recovery program and that the park was in a rural farming county. Now with nine months of Pinnacles leadership under her belt, Stransky is aware of the important place the park holds in the ecology and economy of the county.

She explained how the condor works as an umbrella species that protects other parts of the environment and ecosystems of South County, with one example being the no-fly zone that protects other birds in the air and around nesting sites. Keeping the condor healthy allows other species to thrive, Stranksy said.

Other threatened species that reside in the park are the red-legged frog and California tiger salamander. Pinnacles National Park is also home to 400 species of bees, though none have special species status. Stransky said that the park engages in nonintrusive forms of invasive plant eradication, meaning park employees pull up or uproot the plant. They have used prescribed burns.

Stransky said she wants visitors to Pinnacles to “feel they are part of the bigger picture.” She is working on bringing more visitors to the park, but said that parking itself is an issue. In order to offer more parking, NPS staff would need to use valuable natural land and resources. She hopes to work with local businesses between Hollister and Pinnacles to bring more people in without creating more parking—perhaps involving shuttle services or carpooling/rideshares.

There are also plans at Pinnacles to improve the camping area by offering glamping (glamour camping) options such as large canvas tents with beds and other comforts visitors can rent.

Stransky intends to improve the showers, restrooms and pool. She said she’d like to open the Eastside Visitor Center seven days a week and make the resting spots on park trails more comfortable. Through such improvements, the park aims to bring more people through San Benito County.


Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.