Saturday, December 4, 2010

New Park Rangers improve trail safety

Updated: Monday, 29 Nov 2010, 10:41 PM CST
Published : Monday, 29 Nov 2010, 8:28 PM CST

AUSTIN (KXAN) - The new Parks and Recreation Department' s Park Rangers are becoming an asset to area trails.

“It was kind of an unintentional impact," said Park Ranger David Schwanke. "But from what we heard from AISD police , we’re starting to cut down on a lot of thefts occurring with a lot of parked cars in the general area.”

KXAN compared the thefts from September 20th to November 20th of last year on APD crime tracker website . There were about 21 auto burglaries from the parking lots under Mopac Bridge and near Austin High School in 2009 compared to that same time period this year, when there were 10.

“It’s nice to know we’re having such an impact in such a short amount of time,” Schwanke said.

With four just added to the program, there are now about 23 uniformed rangers that are patrolling Lady Bird Lake from Longhorn Dam all the way to Zilker Park on their bicycles. And that's also creating a benefit to Austin High School .

“They’re starting to see less and less students cut class because we’re on the trail a lot and I guess they’re trying to avoid us,” as Schwanke laughed.

The first Park Rangers hit the trails on September 18th, with their first assignment helping keep pedestrian off the Pfluger pedestrian bridge while the extension was constructed.

They do not have the power to write citations or carry weapons. Their main objective is to teach safety practices and the benefits of area parks.

But, the extra "eyes" are apparently also helping fight crime.

And those who use the hike and bike trails are noticing their presence.

“I think when people see a Park Ranger, they feel comfortable and all the other issues are gone,” said Sam Wildman. "It’s also nice to know that somebody could get help for you if you need it too."

“I’m glad to know there’s a trained professional out there looking out for us," said Dirk Ourston. "And being aware of what’s going on in the vicinity.”

“Mostly we get thanked for being out here, which has been really nice having that kind of reaction from the public,” Schwanke said.

Officials plan to move the Park Ranger office soon from East Austin to the Zilker Park area in order to offer more educational opportunities to families that visit the playground area at Zilker Park.

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