Provided by Prince William County
There are 72 parks in Prince William County that include approximately 4,000 acres and roughly 100 miles of trails; and it falls to 10 park rangers and eight ranger aides to keep the people who use the county’s parks safe.
Senior Park Ranger Matt Sale said the job can entail everything from parking assistance, to spotting dangerous trees fallen across trails, to teaching children about the environment and wildlife. Park rangers might help people change flat tires or loan jumper cables to people with disabled vehicles; or they may assist with directions and help police control traffic when needed.
Sale said the rangers stand prepared to do all of those things with the aim of making visits to the county’s parks a good experience for people. “I love making sure that the people who come to the parks have a good time. People work hard. They come to the parks for recreation, and I want them to have a safe time and enjoy themselves. I just love helping people.”
On a recent Saturday, Sale rode around to different parks in the county, checking things out, talking to park managers, soccer tournament coordinators and park patrons just to make sure everything was going OK, which is all part of a park ranger’s job.
Later in the day, when people started coming in off the water at Lake Ridge Park after spending time fishing, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding, traffic got a bit tangled and needed some experienced attention. Sale directed traffic to help people get their boats in and out of the water, told people of additional parking in another part of the park, and generally provided a calming presence.
Chief Park Ranger Purvis Dawson said when park rangers help with traffic assignments it helps the police. “The more we do, the less the county police have to do, leaving police and deputy sheriffs free to address more pressing needs and available for calls for service.”
Sale said it falls to park rangers to remind people of park rules which, among other things, state that pets must be on a leash and that alcohol isn’t allowed without a special permit. Sometimes people use the fields for pick-up games without authorization when others have previously booked the fields. Sale said he considers it a ranger’s job to help people with the rules they might not know. “We want to obtain compliance with the park’s rules, and we want to do that in a friendly way.”
Dawson said the ranger division conducted more than 35,000 park patrols of county parks, trails and facilities in 2017 as part of their normal duties.