The city park ranger program is scheduled for Nov. 1; the mini-academy comes out on top this fall

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – When Rick Anthony returned to his hometown a few years ago to lead the Bakersfield Parks and Recreation Department, he found three particularly troubling items on the toll: vandalism, theft and graffiti.

Tens of thousands of dollars of damage inflicted almost daily, undermining a huge investment of taxpayers’ money.

One of his solutions was to create a team of rangers to not only address these concerns, but to make people feel comfortable in their parks again.

It’s not a revolutionary idea – cities big and small have done the same. But it’s here now – or almost.

The Bakersfield program will start with 18 rangers and a supervisor. It is funded by Measure N sales tax money – about $1 million in upfront costs and $2.4 million per year.

Bakersfield’s new Park Ranger supervisor Michael Dobbs has already hired eight rangers, with another group of eight on board on September 16.

“Fortunately, we have a good mix of employees that we’ve hired,” Dobbs said. “We have about a third of them who have some sort of law enforcement experience, people who have police officer experience, ranger experience, prison experience….”

The new rangers also include people with experience in parks, recreation and social services.

“If I could mold these three groups of people into one employee, that’s the type of employee I’m looking for,” Dobbs said.

The rangers, who will wear navy polo shirts and khaki tactical pants, will not carry weapons or be able to make arrests, but they can issue citations and they will be in close contact with police. Their main focus, especially in the beginning, will simply be to make people feel comfortable in city parks again.

Walter Villa is an administrative analyst in the Recreation and Parks Department.

“We have several parks that…are not completely accessible to a family,” he said, “and we want them to feel comfortable that, hey, when the park rangers are there, they are at work and they are going to make it safe and comfortable to be there again. We want the children to play in these playgrounds.

The starting salary for municipal park rangers is approximately $57,000 per year. A month-long mini-academy is taking place this fall, and rangers are expected to take their first steps the first week of November. They will each work four 10-hour shifts per week and will work two shifts, from 6 a.m. to midnight. They will work in pairs at several community centers in the park, including at MLK.

There are no immediate plans to expand the scheme, but there are plans to expand the city’s park system – with major developments to come in the West Ming, Bolthouse Highgate areas.

Dobbs knows he has a great opportunity, as the first supervisor of a new program, to set the tone.

“We can create our culture from scratch,” he said.

This means training his team of 13 men and three women to become park ambassadors and training the people of Bakersfield to use and support them.

Ryan H. Bowman