Seattle Park Rangers Corby Christensen and Sandra Wilcox start their work when most of us are still in bed.
In their tan and green uniforms, the veteran Park Rangers move through the park making contact with park patrons, saying hello, waking up the occasional sleeping park visitor, and reminding folks of the rules.
It’s quiet as they circulate through the downtown parks. But it won’t be long before the masses descend on the streets making their way to work, and the parks are transformed into pedestrian highways.
The rangers regularly patrol the Center City Parks — Victor Steinbrueck, Westlake, Occidental, Hing Hay, City Hall, Freeway, Waterfront, Pier 62-63, Cal Anderson and Lake Union parks. They also visit others, as needed.
As the fastest growing city in the United States, Seattle inevitably experiences the social challenges that can, at times, make our urban parks feel less than welcoming.
Seattle Parks and Recreation has many arrows in its quiver keep the city’s downtown parks feel safe, welcoming and fun. Programming the parks with lots of activities – from bocce ball to ice cream vendors to outdoor dancing lessons – is one way.
Putting Park Rangers in the parks is another.
“It’s a big job,” said Christensen. But he and his partner Wilcox approach the situation with cool confidence.
“A ranger is only armed with charm, wit and sophistication,” he added.
And these two have those attributes in spades.
Christensen and Wilcox have worked the downtown parks together since 2008. They know each other well, and they’ve developed some lasting relationships with the park regulars who greet them warmly, and want to chat their friends, families and career aspirations.
There is an obvious mutual respect between the pair and the communities they serve.
The rangers are in the parks to handle the types of things that can turn others away from parks, but don’t quite rise to the level of calling 911. These include talking with patrons about the rules around drinking, smoking or sleeping in the park. They can handle situations with park patrons who may be mentally ill and disruptive, help remove campers and assist homeless people in finding services.
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 are ready with a first-aid kit should a visitor trip or fall.
Wilcox and Christensen are part of a larger team of City employees who are all focused on making our downtown parks safe and welcoming for everyone. They attend meetings with Human Services Department staff, Seattle Police Department, the City Attorney, the King County Public Defender’s Office, non-profit agencies and others 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.
They are quick to point out that they cannot control every situation, but they are making a huge difference in the lives of individuals.
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. When she got the keys to her first apartment this summer, she made sure to seek out them out, and share her success with them.
“I’m so happy for her,” Wilcox said. “I can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish next.”
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’s parks and public spaces a little bit safer.
They’ll prepare for the normal bumps and bruises the job brings and will face unexpected challenges with gusto.
It’s all part of wearing the tan and green uniforms.