Saturday, August 05, 2006

St. Charles Park Rangers Keeping Our Parks Safe

By Lynndi Lockenour

With the hot summer days of August in full swing, the local parks are a popular place to spend an afternoon playing ball, swimming or enjoying the sunshine. While the parks bring tremendous fun and entertainment to thousands of St. Charles County residents every year, it also takes a great deal of work to keep them protected and functioning properly. The St. Charles City Rangers are responsible for making sure the parks in St. Charles City remain a fun, yet safe, environment for all patrons.

The rangers started in the late 1970s when a significant problem arose with teenagers loitering and vandalizing public parks. With police officers needed in other places, the parks administration at the time hired a security company to patrol the parks, but the problem persisted.

In 1983 the administration board created separate law enforcement for the parks division. This resulted in the hiring of the first Chief Park Ranger. Their responsibilities were to augment the police department by providing a safe environment for community members in the parks. This is the same philosophy the St. Charles City Rangers follow today.

Consisting of eight total rangers – six part-time and two full-time - Chief Park Ranger Michael Cordry said the rangers are essentially the same as police officers, except that they patrol parks instead of highways. The St. Charles City Rangers patrol 19 public parks, encompassing 650 acres of land, along with three aquatic centers.

Patrolling doesn’t mean spending all their time in the car. In fact, Chief Cordry encourages his rangers to get out of the car and talk to people. “I would say our job is only 30 percent law enforcement,” he said. “The rest is about seeing people, helping them if they need it, and being a smiling face.”

Encouraging his rangers to stop and watch a few minutes of a soccer game, or chat with the parents, Cordry said the rangers are often asked for directions. “People come up and talk to us all the time,” he said. “I don’t think we are nearly as intimidating as police officers.”

Jim Kearns has been a ranger for six years and said his favorite thing about his job is the constant interaction with the public. Originally trained as a sheriff, Kearns said there is a definite difference in the type of violations he sees. “Whatever happens in the streets could potentially happen in the park,” he said. “But most of the time things are pretty mild.”

The most common offense rangers see is parking violations. The designated parking areas are not intended to eliminate spaces, but rather, Cordry said, to keep people safe. “If an area is blocked off, there is most likely a safety reason behind it and people should obey that,” he said.

Many warnings are given, said Cordry, but if someone repeatedly offends, they will be issued a ticket. One of the most difficult things for the public to obey, he said, is the 15 MPH speed limit. “I know that’s slow,” he said. “But if a child darts out in front of your car at that speed, you can stop, whereas that might not be the case if your vehicle is moving faster.”

Other Ranger divisions exist throughout St. Charles County; the City Rangers are different because unlike most others, they carry guns. Cordry said without them the Rangers are little more than watchmen. “We don’t plan on ever using them,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to assert authority over the public without them.”

Cordry adds that having the Rangers equipped with firearms allows the public to feel safer. “Having that weapon means that if need be, a Ranger can protect the patrons around him,” he said. “Without it, there isn’t much he could do.” It is important to note that all Rangers receive the same academy training as police officers and are therefore licensed to handle and carry firearms.

With the current population boom in St. Charles, Chief Cordry adds that this type of firearm protection is even more essential. “Police officers cannot be everywhere at once,” he said. “It is important that we are able to enforce the rules on our own.”

When they aren’t busy patrolling the parks, the rangers are also involved with programming through the St. Charles Parks and Recreation Department. In years past these programs have included everything from storytelling and soccer for children, to motorcycle safety for adults. The programs usually charge a small fee, but the money is always recycled back into the Parks Department. “All the money we make on these programs gets used to do bigger and better things the following year,” Cordry said.

Some people might think the rangers are only busy during the summer months, but this is not the case. Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Larry Henderson said along with continued parks programming, coupled with the mild winters the last few years, winter is a very busy season. “I would venture to say that we are actually busier during the winter than the summer,” he said. “People just don’t see us out as much.”

Chief Cordry agrees, saying that the majority of his programming planning for the following summer happens during the winter months. With their last major program concluding on Halloween, Cordry only has until the first of January to decide what programs will happen in the summer. “It’s a very busy time for us,” he said.

Cordry loves his job as a Chief Park Ranger. “I think we are accepted by the people more and most people are just glad we are there keeping them safe,” he said.

**The St. Charles City Park Rangers are dispatched through the St. Charles Police Department. If you are in need of Ranger assistance while visiting a park, please contact the St. Charles Police Department at (636) 949-3777 and ask for a park ranger. For more information on the rangers and the work they do, or the programs they offer, please visit their Website at