An army of do-gooders and outdoor enthusiasts is forming in Douglas County to help keep an eye on local open spaces.
County open space staff and volunteers collaborated to create the Douglas County Volunteer Ambassadors Program this summer. The group will be a network of trained volunteers assigned to various duties to assist with enforcement of the county's open space laws.
Scott McEldowney, the county's assistant director of open space and natural resources, said having an additional set of eyes and ears will be helpful to the county's limited staff of rangers and land management specialists.
“It's exciting to take this next step, and I know it's exciting for the volunteers themselves to be included in a program that could be very significant to our operation,” McEldowney said.
Douglas County's open space and natural resources department has a volunteer mounted patrol program and a robust volunteer trail crew and naturalist programs.
“This was just a natural progression, to move into the ambassadors program,” McEldowney said.
McEldowney said the volunteer ambassadors will be responsible for reporting safety hazards or violations of the county's open space rules to the Douglas County Rangers, the enforcing authority for open spaces.
The ambassadors will have distinctive uniforms and travel in teams of two, McEldowney said. The county will announce when people can begin applying for the program. Volunteers must pass a background check and go through training for the county's ethics and sexual harassment policies, as well as a crash course in first aid, “Leave No Trace” and handling verbal confrontations.
Douglas County has seen about a 150% increase in open space visitation this year due to the pandemic, McEldowney said. With ongoing limitations on public gatherings and people working from home, open space use is at an all-time high.
Brian O'Malley, of the Douglas County Open Space Advisory Committee, said the ambassadors will have a positive impact on the environment and wildlife as well. The ambassadors will keep an eye on visitors interacting with animals.
“It's another set of eyes for our rangers, who have a lot of area to patrol and they're busy all the time and they get called away, in certain situations where there's no one else at the open spaces. We'll fill that void.”
Greg Sprigg, former representative on Douglas County Open Space Advisory Committee, said he wanted Douglas County to emulate a similar program found in Jefferson County.
The county held its first in-person training session near Larkspur Aug. 29. The group will start patrolling within the next month.
“This program is in its infancy. This is a core group of people that have been involved with open space for a long time,” Sprigg said. “What we hope to do is have this core group of people train other people.”
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