INSIDE: FILLED WITH GRACE: Russellville woman volunteers with Neighbors TableREAD ONLINE
Pedal patrolPublished July 12, 2012 at 3:59 a.m.
LITTLE ROCK Like any other area in America, a national park needs police to guard against and investigate crime and other disturbances that take away from the pleasure of visiting a special place.
The sidewalks, the Promenade, trails and campgrounds of Hot Springs National Park will be more effectively patrolled following the training of five more park rangers to travel through the park astride mountain bicycles.
There are now six park rangers who have been trained to patrol all areas of the park and respond to emergencies, Chief Ranger John Hughes said.
Ranger Jeff Johnson, supervisor for law enforcement at the park and a veteran of the bike patrol, said the 40 hours of training were intensive and extensive.
“It was rigorous training of many patrol techniques,” he said. “The teacher was certified by the International Police Mountain Biking Association.”
The rangers learned to quickly climb the stairs leading to the Grand Promenade along Hot Springs Mountain behind Bathhouse Row on their bicycles; maneuver through sidewalk traffic; pursueand capture fleeing suspects from the bikes; and even fire their weapons after pedaling along mountain trails.
“The skills set these park rangers acquired during this training will give them more visibility and provide our visitors a faster response when they need assistance,” Hughes said.
“We have had bike patrols for several years,” Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez said, “but people get transferred to other places, and it kind of collapsed.”
Johnson said one of the hardest skills to learn is moving through crowed areas on a bicycle.
“Rangers had to move around an 8-foot square, with cones inside,” he said.
The had to enter one way, ride around three times and then ride out without touching a cone.
“It is all about looking at where you want to go, not where you are. You gear down and are always pedaling so you can stop quickly and still keep your feet off the ground.”
Johnson said rangers can now jump on their light, but durable, mountain bikes and can be almost anywhere in the national park within minutes.
“I was out past Whittington Park once and received a call, and I was back at Bathhouse Row in a couple of minutes,”said Johnson, the only ranger a the park who is a Hot Springs native.
As important as the speed of the bikes is the increased accessibility park visitors have to rangers when they are on bike patrol.
“Patrol cars are a barrier, even with the windows down,” Johnson said.
“We can be driving at a slow speed with the windows down, and people won’t stop you with a question or anything. Once I was on bike patrol, I was surprised at how people come out to the sidewalk to talk to us.”
Johnson said he packs toys and trinkets in his bags when patrolling in front of the bathhouses along Central Avenue in Hot Springs.
He has wristbands, key rings, rubber insects and temporary tattoos of the shield of the National Parks Service.
“It is a great outreach to children,” Fernandez said. “[The rangers] don’t have to look for a place to park the patrol car, either. They can go anywhere on those bikes. That is why it was great they could take their training here, where they will be patrolling.”
The rangers patrol along Bathhouse Row on foot during the day, and the bike patrol will be most visible on Friday and Saturday nights, Johnson said.
“We make numerous arrests. Most are for disorderly conduct or public intoxication,” he said.
However, rangers are veryaware that their work could quickly become dangerous. James Cary was the first national park ranger to be killed in the line of duty.
In 1927, Cary was shot and killed, presumably by bootleggers on West Mountain in Hot Springs National Park.
“Nobody was ever caught,” Fernandez said.
The superintendent said the parks service has often been a leader in law enforcement in the community.
“We had the first bike patrol, and we trained the bike patrol for the Garland County Sheriff’s Department, and we were the first with Tasers,” Fernandez said, referring tothe electroshock weapon carried by rangers on patrol. “In the last eight years, we have been moving forward in law enforcement.”
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.