​There are 72 parks in Prince William County, spanning approximately 4,000 acres and 100 miles of trails. Ensuring the safety of park visitors (and protecting natural resources) falls to 10 park rangers and eight ranger aides.

Senior Park Ranger Matt Sale said the job can entail everything from parking assistance, to spotting dangerous trees fallen across trails, to teaching children about the environment and wildlife. Park rangers might help people change flat tires or loan jumper cables; or they may assist with directions and help police control traffic when needed.

Sale said the rangers stand prepared to do all of those things with the aim of making visits to the county’s parks a good experience for all. “I love making sure that the people who come to the parks have a good time. People work hard. They come to the parks for recreation, and I want them to have a safe time and enjoy themselves. I just love helping people,” said Sale.

On a recent Saturday, Sale rode around to various county parks, checking things out, talking to park managers, soccer tournament coordinators and patrons to make sure all was well. This type of checking-in is part of a park ranger’s job.

Later in the day, when people started coming in off the water at Lake Ridge Park after activities such as fishing, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding, traffic got a bit tangled. Sale directed traffic to help people get their boats in and out of the water, told them of additional parking areas, and generally provided a calming presence.

Chief Park Ranger Purvis Dawson said when park rangers help with traffic assignments it helps the police. “The more we do, the less the county police have to do, leaving police and deputy sheriffs free to address more pressing needs and available for calls for service.”

Sale said it falls to park rangers to remind people of park rules which, among other things, state that pets must be on a leash and that alcohol isn’t allowed without a special permit. Sometimes people use the fields for pick-up games without authorization when others have previously booked the fields. Sale said he considers it a ranger’s job to help people with the rules they might not know. “We want to obtain compliance with the park’s rules, and we want to do that in a friendly way.”

Dawson said the ranger division conducted more than 35,000 park patrols of county parks, trails and facilities in 2017 as part of their normal duties. Now that you know a little more about the people protecting them, discover the array of parks in our community.

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