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Salt Lake City introduces urban park rangers to promote safety, engage with homelessness

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall introduced the city’s new park rangers at the International Peace Gardens on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022
Sean Higgins
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall introduced the city’s new park rangers at the International Peace Gardens on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022

If you find yourself at Salt Lake City’s Fairmont, Liberty, Jordan, or Pioneer parks, you might see some new faces engaging with park goers. Urban park rangers will now patrol many of the city’s open spaces seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, 43% more of the city’s residents started regularly using the city’s parks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She called the new ranger program “a dream” that has been nearly a decade in the making.

“It’s time for us to further invest in our parks and public lands, but also to ensure that the places and the spaces are safe and that they live up to our residents’ expectations,” the mayor said at a Wednesday event introducing the rangers. “We need park rangers in our Salt Lake City parks to promote a safe and welcoming atmosphere on our trails and in our natural areas, too.”

The rangers have a wide variety of training from wildlife education and animal control to how to effectively engage with the city’s homeless residents.

“We’re nature geeks, but we’re also the safe people in the park,” said Park Ranger Erik O’Brien. “We’re encouraged that our efforts will promote voluntary compliance with park rules and encourage co-existence and understanding between all park users, including those who experience homelessness.”

In particular, training will lessen the city’s reliance on law enforcement and first responders when it comes to issues in the parks.

“It’s a consistent presence for the regular visitors and the first timers to answer questions, engage, take concerns and probably calm down some disagreements,” said Salt Lake City Council Chair Dan Dugan. “We’ve diversified our response, and this is the right tool for the job to make it friendly, safe and welcoming for everyone to come visit our parks.”

The city received more than 150 applications for the ranger program and hired just 18. The current crop of recruits has a diverse array of backgrounds and qualifications from Salt Lake natives to transplants.

Vanessa Rogan spent time as a ranger at Zion National Park before returning home to join the city’s ranger program. She said she sees her job as an opportunity to engage with newer residents.

“The city’s becoming more diverse and there are a lot of transplants and I think this program is the perfect juxtaposition of the natural park rangers that you think conventionally and what we can have in the city.”

In addition to the city’s parks, the rangers will also be patrolling the Foothills Trail System in the near future.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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