In the City of Columbia’s Fiscal Year 2004, the Parks and Recreation Department received approval to fund the Department’s first official Park Ranger. However, the history of the Park Ranger Program began just over 10 years earlier.
Park Events Assistants, 1993-2003
In 1993, the Parks and Recreation Department began an aggressive program of improving the quality of the athletic fields. A primary problem with keeping an excellent stand of turf was the multitude of unauthorized games and practices being held on the fields. The fields were literally being used to death. Working with all of the youth athletic associations, the Department began to prohibit practices and restricting the number of games on all athletic fields. Since most of the illegal use occurred in the evenings and weekends, enforcement of this policy became a critical component to its success. This prompted the first discussion of implementing a Park Ranger Program. The Department decided to phase in the Ranger Program by hiring temporary, part-time “Park Events Assistants.” The Park Events Assistants worked approximately 25-30 hours per week, primarily during the early evening weekday hours, and in the mornings and early afternoons on the weekends. They were scheduled during the summer and early fall. They enforced all park and recreation rules and regulations, concentrating primarily in and around Columbia’s athletic complexes. These positions were not POST certified and did not have law enforcement authority. They were primary the eyes and ears of the Department, and when illegal activities were observed, they notified the Columbia Police Department for the appropriate action. For the next 10 years, the Park Events Assistants played an important role in keeping watch on Columbia’s parks and facilities.
In 2002, the Department completed the Facilities Needs Update of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. Support for a full-time commissioned Park Ranger was voiced during master plan meetings and on-going neighborhood association meetings, including the Central City Neighborhood Associations, and especially within the Neighborhood Response Team.
In 2003, the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center (ARC) officially opened and was immediately successful. The ARC is at its busiest during the late fall and winter months when the temporary Park Events Assistants are not scheduled. It became apparent that there was a need for a full-time Park Ranger, both in the parks and at the ARC.
Passage of the Park Sales Tax, 2000
Fortunately, the P&R Department had funding at this time due to the passage of the Park Sales Tax. In 2000, voters approved Columbia’s first dedicated Park Sales Tax, which took effect on April 1, 2001. This included a permanent 1/8-cent and a temporary 1/8-cent tax. The Columbia Park Sales Tax is a dedicated sales tax for local parks applied to all retail sales made within the city of Columbia that are subject to taxation under the provision of Sections 144.010 to 144.525 RSMo. All revenue received from the local Park Sales Tax is used…
“solely for local parks for the City, in order to purchase, improve and manage parks, trails and natural lands for water quality, wildlife, tree preservation, and recreation purposes”
With funding from the permanent tax, P&R staff established an implementation program, which included the addition of employees in the horticulture, forestry, park maintenance, park planning/administration, and a park ranger. The Park Ranger Program was developed in cooperation with CPD Chief Randy Boehm and received his full support and approval.
First Park Ranger Hired, 2004
In August 2003, the Department requested funding for the Park Ranger. With the adoption of the City of Columbia’s FY-2004 Budget, funding for the Park Ranger position was approved. In January 2004, Rosanna Arens (Johnson) was hired to become Columbia’s first full-time, POST certified Park Ranger.
Columbia Parks and Recreation continued operating with only one full-time ranger for eight years after the initiation of the program. Budget constraints during difficult economic times in FY 2008-2010 prohibited adding new FTE positions.
2nd Park Ranger Position, 2012
In Fiscal Year 2011 the City of Columbia conducted a citizen survey. The survey revealed citizens’ perceptions of safety in the parks was an area that could be improved.
In Fiscal Year 2012 funds from the Park Sales Tax were budgeted for a second full-time ranger. Eric White retired from the Columbia Police Department and then went on to fill the second ranger position in February 2012. With two rangers, coverage of the parks improved and rangers were able to respond to more 911 dispatches to park locations, alleviating some of the burden on the Police Department. But, there was still a need to expand the program to allow for coverage in the parks seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Eric White served as a park ranger from 2012 to December 2014. Andrew Bell served as a park ranger from July 2015 to February 2018. Herzog Whatley was hired in October 2018.
Park Ranger Supervisor Position, 2015
In Fiscal Year 2015, a third position was budgeted and funded from the Park Sales Tax to serve as the Park Ranger Supervisor. Veteran Ranger Rosanna (Arens) Johnson was promoted to the supervisor position in March 2015. However, due to concerns over revenue projections, the Parks and Recreation Department delayed filling her vacated Park Ranger position. As the year progressed, revenue projections continued to be dismal, so the department opted not to fill the position and finally relinquished the position in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
New Park Ranger Station, 2016
Park crews remodeled the Waters House in the Waters-Moss Memorial Wildlife Area to create offices and a permanent home for the park rangers. In 2016, the park rangers moved into their new ranger station.
“New ranger has personal ties to city parks”
Columbia Missourian – 10/6/15
“City hires park ranger”
Columbia Daily Tribune – 7/25/15
“The Lone Ranger”
Columbia Missourian – 2/12/04