J'ville to retire 'ranger' term for park help

City's insurer doesn't like name applied to corps of volunteers

JACKSONVILLE — Volunteers who patrol the city's Forest Park will no longer be called "rangers," but they will continue their services for the next year under supervision of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a JWA proposal while requiring removal of the park ranger name and eliminating their ability to write citations. The motion also called for developing a master plan for the park, said City Manager Jeff Alvis.

"The program would be allowed to function under the Jacksonville Woodlands Association absent the name Forest Park ranger," said association President Charley Wilson. "We'll see what other names will fit."

Park ranger efforts came under scrutiny when the city's insurer raised concerns about volunteers covered by workers' compensation insurance. Police Chief David Towe had also expressed concerns about the rangers' enforcement authority.

Citycounty Insurance Service had advised the city it needed to discontinue workers' compensation for several volunteer groups in the city unless they met specified criteria. Groups included the park rangers, Jacksonville Boosters, Friends of the Jacksonville Cemetery, Historic Jacksonville Inc. and the Woodlands Association. The groups will need to purchase accident insurance for volunteers.

Park rangers have patrolled Forest Park, a mile west of the city, since 2008. The 1,080-acre park includes the former city reservoir. Rangers have served as hosts and also worked on trail creation and other park improvement projects.

Rangers had enforcement authority but have never issued any citations. Towe had previously said citations should be left to professionals with training.

Wilson said support of the volunteers should be viewed as interim and as a transitional step toward the ongoing management, development and maintenance of Forest Park. A Forest Park General Management Plan to provide policy and standards should be completed, the association wrote.

While JWA has supported the park financially and with grant writing assistance, an enhanced role by the group would require amendments to bylaws, said Wilson.

"We don't have the means to take on Forest Park in terms of management," said Wilson. The association oversees 255 acres of trail lands under collaborative agreements with the Bureau of Land Management, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, county parks and the city.

Councilors also passed a resolution that specifies who will be covered as volunteers for the city. Included are firefighters, members of the Community Emergency Response Team and trained volunteers who work in the cemetery under supervision to restore headstones.

City volunteers must have job descriptions, be supervised by city employees and have safety training.

Councilors on April 21 approved providing up to $300 to each group that had 1,000 documented hours of volunteer service to the city in a fiscal year to assist with accident insurance costs. An insurance agent present at the April meeting reported such coverage was available for about $300 per year.

Only one group will likely meet the 1,000-hour criteria for fiscal 2014, a memo from City Recorder Jan Garcia reported. Through April, Friends of the Cemetery had logged approximately 920 hours. Council took no action to change the criteria.

"It was just an alert," said Alvis. "We want to see what organizations really want that reimbursement."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.


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