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Park rangers: The unseen frontline for mental health

Over the years, rangers have found themselves dealing with more mental health crises. The co-responder program aims to help with that.

DENVER — Our park rangers are a largely unseen group on the frontlines of our mental health crisis.

Their role has morphed over the years, but rangers have always prided themselves on being a friend in the park.

"I'm a good ear, a good shoulder, whatever is needed," District Park Ranger Supervisor Jodie Marozas said.  Now, she finds herself helping people with addiction, mental health crises and people experiencing homelessness. She never expected it would such a big part of her job but said she bends over backwards to help.

"Think about it. Everybody has been in a situation at a low point in their life. You don't want to be defined or judged by that one period of time when you needed help," Marozas said. "We make sure we don't label people based off their behavior, we see people for who they are, and that they are in need. We want people to see rangers as someone to come to if they need help."

Rangers are trained in de-escalation techniques, mental health first aid and trauma training. 

"We do our best, but we aren't the best. We are experts in enforcing park rules," Marozas said of their mental health work.

This is why they've been pushing to be an official part of the co-responder program, where for the first time, rangers will help people in the park with a clinician right next to them. 

Denver city council gave the program the greenlight this week.

Rangers will work with a group called Wellpower to offer short or long term help, whatever the person is ready for. 

Chris Richardson with Wellpower said that yes, this program was probably overdue. But, he added, "co-responder civilian response in general is way, way overdue."

It could close a gap rangers have long worried about, which is that by the time they call for help, and someone shows up, the person will have left.

Marozas said that she feels the rangers' efforts have gone unseen for five years at least. However, she isn't dwelling on it, because she knows things are going to change in the park. 

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she said.

They hope to launch the co-responder program in the next month.

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