Burlington urban park rangers on a mission to assist, educate visitors

Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 5:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington added new urban park rangers this summer to help keep an eye on what’s going on in the city’s parks.

The rangers hit all 35 parks when they work. The aim is to help people and encourage visitors to follow the ordinances of the city parks.

“I do think the team is making a difference within the parks system,” said Neil Preston, the lead urban park ranger.

Currently, there are two full-time park rangers and four seasonal rangers. They ride e-bikes to the city’s parks and waterfront spaces and keep an eye on what’s going on. They focus on educating people about ordinances such as no fires on beaches, glass bottles or unleashed dogs.

“Rather than saying, ‘No, you have to go’ -- that drives a wall between me and the park guest. I’d much rather say, ‘Hi, I’m really glad you are here using this space. When you come in the future, this is how we use this particular space and for what you’d like to do, here’s where we need to go,’” Preston said.

With the Burlington Police Department’s ranks depleted, the city has focused on other ways to patrol areas without needing a uniformed officer, which makes people who frequent the parks feel more comfortable.

“Obviously having the support of additional eyes around makes me feel safer and knowing there’s someone watching,” said Martita Giard of Fairfield.

“It absolutely would make me feel more comfortable, particularly after dark or when other people aren’t around it would make me feel more comfortable,” said Linda Cohen of Montpelier.

The park rangers also serve as a way to monitor the parks and bike path for people who could be injured or dealing with substance abuse issues. They can call first responders, including social workers with the police department or employees from the Howard Center. They also look out for potentially hazardous cyanobacteria blooms.

“It is six more sets of eyes on wheels moving around throughout the city that weren’t there before, so it does help us out and it is good to have,” said Alec Kaeding, the waterfront and parks operations manager for Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront.

Preston believes his unit is changing behavior. He says the beaches are cleaner and there are fewer fires.

He has high hopes for the future of this program.

“I get to see individuals on a day to day of different spaces and just make those community connections,” Preston said.

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