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There are more sets of eyes keeping watch in Napa’s parks.

The city’s first two park rangers went on duty in mid-December, starting a series of nightly patrols to help open and close recreation areas, enforce park rules, and deter vandalism and littering. And in the coming months, their jobs will expand to guiding and educating visitors on natural and historic landmarks in and around Napa parks, according to the Parks and Recreation department.

Two part-time rangers will be joined by three more who have been hired by the city to watch over eight city-owned parks, including the downtown Oxbow Commons, Fuller Park in Old Town and Kennedy Park in the south. Patrols on foot and in city-owned trucks take place from 7 to 11 p.m. on weeknights, and during the dawn-to-dusk period when parks are open on Saturdays and Sundays.

At each site, rangers will lock gates and bathrooms and check for any unusual activity on the grounds, reporting any incidents to Napa’s police and fire dispatch center with two-way radios, according to Parks and Recreation director John Coates. Self-defense instruction from Napa Police is a part of the rangers’ four-month training program, but they do not carry weapons or hold law enforcement certification, he said.

Besides reducing the risk of mischief and damage, the main goal of the ranger program is to help park users willingly follow the rules – including bans on alcohol and smoking, or the requirement to reserve picnic pavilions in advance – without escalating tensions, according to Coates.

“The job isn’t to just look for violators,” he said. “If they need education, or if activity looks like it might lead to problems, (rangers) have the opportunity to advise them instead of having the police come and write a citation. It’s a gentle way to inform people what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.”

One of the most common issues the new park rangers have dealt with is that of pet owners walking dogs without a leash, a practice allowed in parts of Alston Park but illegal in many others.

“It’s been a good opportunity to engage the pet owners,” said city parks supervisor Wade Finlinson. He pointed to the rangers as a way to inform Napans of the leash law in a friendly, non-hostile way – by guiding people to pet-walk areas that sometimes have poor signage, or handing out pamphlets showing where dogs can go leashless.

The rangers’ duties will expand in the coming months to providing a visible city presence during major public events in Napa parks, as well as eventually leading nature and environmental tours in some recreational areas, according to Coates.

All five of the current and upcoming rangers were hired from outside the city parks department and have experience either on park patrols or as tour docents elsewhere, he said.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.