Rick Hubbard came across someone fishing at Mill Lake Park and then another time he saw someone sleeping on one of the benches.
Instead of approaching the latter, he radioed dispatch at the Orange City Police Department.
Mr. Hubbard, an Orange City resident, is one of eight volunteers in the Park Ranger Program, which was thought of by City Councilman Martin Harper, picked up by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and ultimately, is under the Police Department’s Volunteers in Public Service program.
Nothing really came of the homeless person sleeping on the bench, but Orange City Police Lt. Jason Sampsell said an officer did go out and told the person something in-regards-to, “enjoy the parks. It’s not a place to camp out overnight.”
Orange City has seven parks – Coleman Park, Colin’s Skate Park, Mill Lake Park, Veteran’s Memorial Park, Oak Park, Waggin’ Trail Dog Park, Valentine Park and Dickinson Park.
“When the idea was brought to me, I was immediately intrigued,” said Ashley Gay, superintendent of parks and recreation. “I worked with the police department to develop the Park Ranger side of VIPS. They’re an asset for parks because they provide the community comfort knowing that someone is there.”
The rangers, dressed in polo shirts with the city emblem embroidered, utility pants and duty belts, take a four-hour training program; first to learn the policies, procedures and park rules with parks and recreation; and then ethics and radio operation with the police department.
The rangers officially started March 18.
Mr. Harper, also a volunteer Park Ranger, said he came up with the idea because “we have a fairly small staff and lots of great parks. Staff is somewhat limited. I’ve heard some different problems here and there at the parks.”
Lt. Sampsell said the city is about eight square miles and has 27 officers to patrol the area.
“Our population is about 12,000; those are the people who lie their heads down here at night,” he said. “There’s 30,000 or more when you look at traffic and commercial businesses – we’re 80% commercial and 20% residential.”
Lt. Sampsell said the program is beneficial to all involved.
“There’s extra eyes out there,” he said. “There’s a uniform out there. The uniform makes them go on, go elsewhere.”
Mr. Hubbard said he goes out three to four times weekly and does his best to stop at all seven parks on the days he is out.
“The more you volunteer for your city or township, the better it is for other people who can’t (volunteer),” he said. “It’s a good program. I hope other people in Orange City get into the program, so that we have more volunteers to keep it safe.”
Lt. Sampsell said most morning when he is working, he sees at least one park ranger walk by his office.
“We know who’s out there and what they are doing,” he said. “It’s more about the appearance and the ability to notify law enforcement quickly.”
Mr. Hubbard said he enjoys the camaraderie.
“They are very friendly to us at the police station,” he said. “They treat us like partners.”
Lt. Sampsell added, “They (park rangers) are approachable. They’re out on foot. It opens up avenues to reach out to the people in the community.”
Ms. Gay said, “These people are part of the city and they are here to help you.” And then added: “Be sure to say hello if you see them at the parks.”