ROB KRENSKY jumps out of his Ford F-150 truck in Wunderlich Park in Woodside and rubs his hands together. It's a bit cooler outside than he expected.
It's about 9:30 a.m. and Krensky is getting ready for his first ride of the day.
Rudy, a 20-year-old mixed-breed horse, gives a loud snort and rustles out of the back of an old trailer, in which Krensky had towed him. Towering over Krensky's lanky frame, Rudy is chocolate-brown, his head a lighter caramel color, with a tuft of white hair between his eyes.
"This morning he was a little grouchy. Horses seem to take on the personality of their owner," Krensky said as he patted Rudy's back, sending a burst of dust into the air. "I'm just glad he's not 7 years old. He can still be a handful."
Krensky, 72, has been a member of the San Mateo County Parks Volunteer Horse Patrol for more than a decade. The group was founded in 1987 by local equestrians who wanted to help maintain several county parks, including Edgewood Park in Redwood City, Huddart Park in Woodside and Pescadero Creek Park in La Honda.
Krensky said he moved to Woodside from Chicago in 1960. A neighbor offered to takehim on a 10-mile ride along Skyline.
"I was kind of sore after that ride, but it became a part of my life," said Krensky, who has been riding horses ever since.
An electrician for 30 years, Krensky said he now spends most of his time traversing the trails of some of San Mateo County's most scenic parks. He, along with more than 100 other volunteers, serves as the "eyes and ears" of the county parks, maintaining trails and offering assistance when needed to lost or injured hikers.
Krensky said volunteering is just a way of life for him. It gives him an excuse to participate in a good cause and to spend some time with Rudy.
"I enjoy hanging out with my horse. I enjoy being outside," he said. "This gives me a chance to do that."
As he rides along the trails in Wunderlich Park, Krensky points out a section of trees that were chopped down recently as part of a fire-prevention tactic. He talks about some of the park's quirks, including a water line that always seems to break, and makes note of a stone wall that was built sometime in the 1800s.
Krensky said some days he'll ride for
15 miles and come across nothing unusual. His biggest offenders recently: Dog walkers and bicyclists, both of which are banned from the parks. Other than the occasional lost visitor, Krensky said his role, like that of the other volunteers, is to be prepared for the unexpected.
"When I first joined this group, I said, 'Hey, we ought to have some training in search-and-rescue so if anything comes up we know what to do,'" he said. "There's more time spent training than there is searching."
Krensky said his goal each time he heads up a trail is to assist the county's park rangers, who may not be able to reach some areas.
"It's very important," Nick Ramirez, a former county park ranger, said of the role of the volunteer horse patrol. "It's important because they report and observe conditions on trails wherever access to the trails could be challenging to the ranger. It really helps with keeping our trails safe and open."
Ramirez, a friend of Krensky's, said it's a powerful and inspiring thing to see people do what they love for the benefit of the community at large.
"It's a dynamite thing," he said. "I think it's great when I see people with their personal interests or hobbies, such as horseback riding, taken to another level. It's an opportunity to get involved in the community, parkland and environment."
While his effort to preserve the parks is noble, Krensky said he's just doing what he loves.
"I like getting out in nature and seeing some places some people never see," Krensky said. "I like to help out. I've always been that kind of person."
Staff writer Kelly Pakula can be reached at (650) 348-4339 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.