FORT COLLINS - For the first time in Fort Collins' history, two dedicated rangers are patrolling the city's parks and paved trails with plans to begin consistently enforcing the city's dog leash law.
The two rangers are retired Fort Collins police officers with decades of law-enforcement experience. But as rangers, they don't carry guns or handcuffs. Instead, the two are the city's official ambassadors to the estimated 3 million people who use Fort Collins parks each year, rain or shine. The two rangers aim to help reduce user conflicts, perform work otherwise handled by parks employees and police officers, and tighten up enforcement of city rules.
Leash law violations are at the top of their list. The two are spending the next few months educating parks users about the leash law and dog-waste pickup laws before they start writing tickets in earnest.
"We are going to continue to educate, but there will come a time when 'I didn't know' won't cut it," said ranger Bud Bredehoft. "I would rather give everybody a chance first ... (but) I want people to know we are out there."
A patchwork jurisdiction
Fort Collins' parks range from the community-wide gems of Spring Canyon, with its multiple playing fields and beloved playground to tiny Soft Gold Park tucked west of North College Avenue, the archery range near Interstate 25's Prospect Road exit, and the Aggie Greens disc golf park by Hughes Stadium.
There are 54 city parks in Fort Collins, six of which are under development.
Parks managers say they want to ensure the parks remain comfortable and safe for everyone to use. But with the city's planned growth, and the desire to have police officers focus on more serious crimes, Fort Collins officials decided to create the park ranger program in 2013.
Bredehoft was the first hire and spent much of the fall developing the uniforms and protocols the rangers would use. The uniforms have to be suitably authoritative but not look like those police officers or natural areas rangers use.
He also had to get equipped with trucks and bikes so he and West can patrol effectively. The two men are now on a campaign to ride all of the city's trails as they reacquaint themselves with a city they know largely from the seat of a marked patrol car.