New Portland resident Andreas Stavropoulos is no stranger to tiny design culture. Before the architect taught a course in small space design at the Vermont build-it school Yestermorrow, he lived in a custom-remodeled 1959 Airstream parked behind a Berkeley co-op. So, naturally, when Golden Gate National Parks conservancy needed a creative—and mobile—way to reach local communities and boost visitor counts in 2013, they turned to Stavropoulos.
His concept started with a simple bread truck—an interactive visitors’ center on wheels, ready to educate and entertain. That original sunny orange truck, dubbed "Roving Ranger," started cropping up at schools, senior centers, and playgrounds, bringing the park to those who might never have dreamed of visiting otherwise.
“It’s important that the Rangers are approachable. Our parks are national treasures, but these treasures aren’t exactly reaching everybody evenly,” says Stavropoulos, co-founder of BASE Landscape Architecture, a Bay Area firm that recently expanded to Portland. “We’re working to bridge that gap, and make it so that the visitors of these parks represent a real cross-section of the population that lives near them.”
And it’s working—in the first year, that original Roving Ranger reached over 9,000 people at 68 events. In fact, it was so popular that BASE was commissioned to make a sequel, the LA Ranger Troca, that ranged farther south with an aim to better acquaint Angelenos with the Santa Monica Mountains.
The newest truck in the series was made right here in Portland. The One Tam Ranger, commissioned by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for the Mount Tamalpais area just north of San Francisco, will help residents learn about the Mount Tam watershed, along with best practices for water conservation and management.
Instead of aluminum countertops and bread ovens, the miniscule interiors of the One Tam Ranger and its predecessors are outfitted with reclaimed and repurposed artifacts designed to attract visitors. In one, people interact with a coat rack made with old drill bits and cypress cabinets crafted from a tree felled by the wind. Many features are interactive—chalkboards, bike service stations, Polaroid cameras.
“Sometimes we have projects where the client has a huge warehouse full of funky, interesting stuff salvaged from demolition projects, and that was actually the case for all of the Rangers,” Stavropoulos says. We basically went through with a shopping cart and picked up anything we thought might be interesting. We’ve used old road signs from the parks themselves."
Stavropoulos says he's been contacted about even more future Ranger projects. Can you expect to see any of his trucks hanging around here? That, he says, will all depend on who contracts his services next.
“I would welcome the opportunity to do a whole bunch more of these,” he says. “It would make me so happy to know that there’s dozens of these across the country helping parks, nonprofits, and other organizations get their word out.”