It was a warm afternoon in early summer when Jackson County Parks Ranger Martin Steele responded to a mutual aid call from Prairie Township Fire for an incident on the east side of Lake Jacomo. As he arrived the ranger spotted a 16-year-old girl lying on shore in obvious pain. She had suffered a serious injury while jumping from a high cliff into the lake.
Ranger Steele comforted the girl and assisted an EMS rescue team make their way down from the top of the cliffs to assess her injuries and administer medical treatment. The girl had suffered a compound fracture of her leg and would need to be transferred from the shoreline to an ambulance across the lake.
While others continued to assist the EMS team, Steele skillfully piloted a ranger watercraft in very shallow water to the shoreline near the girl. She was carefully loaded into the boat with the utmost care, the ranger then guided the boat across the lake and delivered her to the waiting ambulance.
The girl was rushed to a local hospital where she underwent surgery and is now expected to make a full recovery. The cliffs the girl jumped from were recently removed, a task that has been discussed for many years. “By removing them we will no longer have to be concerned with anyone jumping off the cliffs and potentially being injured,” Acting Chief Ranger Larry Niederschulte said.
Lending aid to the injured cliff diver was only one of the many incidents handled throughout the year by the rangers. The mission of the Jackson County Parks Rangers is to ensure the safety, security, and quality of life for all patrons at Jackson County Parks+Rec parks and facilities.
Rangers coordinate their services with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri State Water Patrol, Jackson County Sheriff's Department and other local Law Enforcement Agencies. There is a full time staff of Rangers who patrol the 21,000 acres of parkland, the third largest county parks system in the United States, 365 days a year. Rangers patrol by vehicle, boat, ATV, bike and on foot.
As the county’s trail system continues to grow so do safety concerns on the trails. Niederschulte said the improved trails, The Little Blue Trace, Lake Vista and the Longview Bike Trail, are patrolled daily, weather and staff permitting.
“By doing this it allows a lot of positive interaction with the public. We are interested in proving a law enforcement presence on the trails to help do our part in keeping them safe. While there we are able to assist with directions, first aid and assistance with answering questions about what the Parks Department has to offer and what special events and programs are available to them. We are also there to enforce any violation we encounter especially dogs off leash, horseback riding and to help prevent vandalism and property damage,” he said.
Park Rangers also serve a key role in public relations for the Parks+Rec Department. They are the "Park's Department" to everyone they meet, and first impressions are very important. Rangers serve the citizens of Jackson County and the more than one million annual visitors to the county’s park system.
The office moved to a new building in May of 2017 and is in the process of implementing new online reporting systems for incident reports and work requests.