Most people can recognize Seattle’s park rangers by their tan and green uniforms, but few can tell you what they actually do.
Park rangers regularly patrol Victor Steinbrueck, Westlake, Occidental, Hing Hay, City Hall, Freeway, Waterfront, Pier 62-63, Cal Anderson and Lake Union parks visiting others as needed.
Seattle Parks and Recreation Park Rangers Corby Christensen and Sandra Wilcox start their day at sun up. They circulate through “Center City” parks conducting a “morning wake up,” which literally means waking up people sleeping in parks and getting them moving.
The task seems frightening and has the potential to be dangerous, but Christensen and Wilcox approach the situation with cool confidence.
“Good morning!” they call out to each individual, addressing most by first and last name. They ask after their friends and families. The exchanges come off as chance meetings of old friends, rather than acts of enforcement.
“A ranger is only armed with charm, wit and sophistication,” Christensen said.
And these two have all three attributes. The people in parks wave wildly to get the rangers’ attention and are excited to share their latest news. They tell the rangers how kind they are, and there is an obvious mutual respect.
There’s a woman who frequents Waterfront Park that calls the rangers her family, and a man in Occidental who worships Wilcox. But as most park-goers know, the downtown area isn’t always welcoming.
The rangers said they’ve found people overdosed on drugs and other fatal scenes.
“You have to have a thick skin,” Christensen said, “and we’re definitely calloused.”
The rangers are quick to point out that they are not the panacea to the city’s issues of crime and homelessness, but they are making a huge difference in the lives of individuals, slowly chipping away at the problem.
“It’s not all dark,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said they help find lost children, return wandering Alzheimer patients to their loved ones and participate in park openings and community events. They pass out soothing cream to the severely sunburned and help dress wounds.
Wilcox and Christensen attend meetings with Human Services Department staff, police, the City Attorney and other city officials as part of the Center City Initiative to get longtime homeless people and individuals with disabilities off the streets and into housing and treatment centers.
Wilcox tells the story of a woman who they saw on the street for a very long time. The rangers helped her get enrolled in city services, and she was able to brag to them about getting the keys to her first apartment this summer.
“I’m so happy for her,” Wilcox said. “I hope she’s able to do this.”
In the meantime, Wilcox and Christensen, and the six other Seattle Parks rangers will continue to make their rounds day after day, establishing rapport with destitute individuals and making Seattle parks and public spaces a little bit safer.
They’ll prepare for the normal scrapes and bruises the job brings and will face unexpected challenges with gusto.
It’s all part of wearing the tan and green uniforms.