When will the Salt Lake City Park Ranger program begin?

Beware of park goers who break the rules: there’s a new ranger in town.

Salt Lake City is about to launch a new park ranger program that officials say will provide educational programs and give public lands a new set of eyes and ears.

The rangers – 18 of them when fully staffed – are meant to be a friendly face for visitors to interact with, Public Lands Department spokesman Luke Allen said. One thing they are not, he says, are law enforcement officers.

“But we’re hoping that by having them in the parks, talking to people,” Allen said, “we can promote voluntary compliance with park rules.”

They will keep an eye out for common issues such as drug and alcohol use in public areas, unauthorized activities or events, and stray off-leash dogs.

Rangers will also be there to respond if any issues arise with homeless people in the parks.

The program is the first of its kind in Salt Lake City and has been on the wish list of park officials for years. Last year, an injection of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and internal city buy-in meant the park ranger program was launched.

The Rangers will visit all parks, but will be based in four areas – Liberty Park, Pioneer Park, Fairmont Park and the Jordan River Trail. A pair of rangers will also monitor the foothills trail system for raging dogs, people straying from the trails and cyclists using e-bikes.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City park rangers hand out information cards about their new services during Yappy Hour at Pioneer Park, Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Before heading to the parks next month, they will need extensive training with groups including Volunteers of America, Salt Lake County Animal Services and the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Once fully operational, they will monitor the parks from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Fight homelessness

Chris Croswhite, executive director of Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, said a ranger program in Utah’s capital makes a lot of sense, but stressed homeless residents have equal rights to use the parks. public than anyone else.

He said the park ranger model could be a helpful resource for those in Salt Lake City but unfamiliar with the services available here, such as where to go for meals or shelter.

“It’s really potentially a really good program,” Croswhite said. “It’s going to depend a lot on how it’s implemented and the training of the officers.”

Allen insists the program is not about driving homeless people off the city’s public lands.

It is not the job of rangers to identify and report illegal camping in city parks, he said, and they will not be tasked with tearing down tents or providing social services. Instead, they will be trained on how to assess issues and call the correct agency or organization to properly resolve issues.

“If we’re 100% honest, even with these rangers in the parks and along the trails, there’s still going to be camping,” Allen said. “There will always be homeless people in the parks.”

More than anything, he said, the goal of the ranger program is to promote positive uses in the parks and build relationships with visitors. Rangers are there to be an intermediary between the public and law enforcement, and will be trained to make the right call in the event of a problem.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Park Rangers’ pet dogs during Yappy Hour at Pioneer Park, Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Program draws support, skepticism

Salt Lake City’s new program has garnered support from community groups, who say the increased presence in public parks will make open spaces more welcoming.

Turner Bitton, chairman of the Glendale Neighborhood Council, said the program could help meet needs that do not reach the level of attention from law enforcement and makes public lands more accessible by allowing visitors to feel safer and offering directions and information about public spaces.

Sarah Woolsey of Friends of Fairmont Park said she hopes the ranger program will make the park run better for everyone as it continues to see an influx of visitors with the growth of Sugar House.

“If you don’t pick up after your dog and a kid walk in it while they’re playing football, it doesn’t work,” Woolsey said. “And so having those kinds of additional reinforcements, we think will be good.”

Polly Hart, who chairs the city’s parks, natural lands, urban forestry and trails advisory board, said she opposes the ranger program but is now reserving judgment until she sees how it goes.

Hart, who is also a board member of Millcreek Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Space (FIDOS), said she is concerned that rangers are targeting dog owners who don’t leave their pets behind. .

“I don’t advise people to leave their dogs off-leash in legally leashed areas,” she said, “but I do sympathize because dog owners are one of the toughest outdoor groups. underserved that exist in our valley. We are sorely lacking in space compared to other user groups. »

Similar effort successful in Denver

Salt Lake City looked to places like Seattle and Denver when it cooked up its idea for a ranger program.

Eliza Hunholz, deputy director of the Denver park ranger program, said her employees patrol Mile High City public lands around the clock and have been efficient.

Unlike the Salt Lake City program, Denver park rangers have the authority to issue citations, but Hunholz said it’s a last resort. Instead, she said, rangers use a trauma-informed approach to help homeless and drug-addicted people.

Hunholz said she told job applicants “it’s not campfire chats, nature hikes, marshmallow roasts, bird watching.”

“It’s really tough work,” she said, “with some of the toughest issues facing society right now.”

Hunholz said Denver has cleaner and safer parks than other cities. Part of that, she said, is to strictly enforce a ban on camping in public spaces. If camping takes place in Denver parks, she said, those tents are usually taken down within 48 hours.

“At the end of the day, parks are for everyone,” she said. “We welcome everyone to our parks. But if you don’t follow the rules, we will enforce the rules.

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