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Ranger Bernard "Snook" Cipoletti helps visitors from out of the area in understanding park rules about staying on trails during a warm, busy Saturday Jan. 11 at the Garden of the Gods. In the background is the main parking lot off Juniper Way Loop.
Westside Pioneer photo

Ranger reinforcements on the way for the Garden of the Gods

       Spending an hour and a half on a recent Saturday afternoon with Bernard “Snook” Cipoletti hardly revealed the whole story of what he does as a Garden of the Gods park ranger, but it did at least give a clue.
       The man is busy. He has to be watchful of erosion problems, climbers without equipment, loose dogs, injured animals, hikers off trails and cars parking in the bike lanes. He answers questions from the public. He checks the trash cans - even picks up trash himself, figuring he has to set a good example.
       He also works with Friends groups and other volunteers on workdays or special events. He makes sure the park maintenance vehicles are running. When he and his three part-time helpers get a chance, they fix trails themselves. And he has to be ready to drop whatever he's doing to handle emergencies or the unexpected - such as, on this particular Saturday, a paraglider landing illegally at Rock Ledge Ranch.
       On top of all that, the Garden is not the only park Cipoletti is responsible for. Even though it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state (estimated at 2 million visitors a year), he has 16 other city parks to look after as well.

People used to wander off the trail in this part of the Garden of the Gods to get closer to the North Gateway formation or even try to climb without equipment. To control that, the city installed a split-rail fence alongside the trail with a gate that registered climbers can go through to get to climbing routes.
Westside Pioneer photo

       So he's glad - as are the leaders of the City Parks Department - that funding has become available to increase the ranger presence for the 1,300-acre sandstone expanse. Under the 2014 budget, the Garden will become Cipoletti's sole assignment; plus, another full-time ranger is about to be assigned there too. As a result, at least one ranger will always be on duty during its primary hours (basically dawn to dusk), with two on weekends, according to Parks Maintenance Director Kurt Schroeder.
       “It's fabulous for the Garden,” he said. “I think it will mean more contact with the public, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day, helping people understand the opportunities there, what they can do and what they can't do - not so much enforcement but education.”
       The second ranger will start soon, though an exact date is still being determined. City Parks posted the position near the start of the month, and “it's usually a three- to four-week process” for hiring, Schroeder explained. “It's safe to say, we'll have someone chosen in the first quarter of the year.”
       The funding is coming from statewide conservation trust funds that City Parks receives annually from the state lottery and uses to supplement its budget. Based on 2013 calculations, the Colorado Springs stipend for this year is $759,000 higher than expected. “More people bought lottery tickets and the city's population [part of the state allocation formula] has gone up,” Schroeder said.
       Part of the extra funds will be used to hire a second new parks ranger, who will help with the parks Cipoletti used to handle, Schroeder added.

Photo shows an erosion problem that developed last summer, as a combination of intermittent water flowing down the small gulley and park visitors making a "social trail" to access the restroom. Installing split-rail fence is helping with the access problem, but major fill work is needed to cover an exposed water line, as well as the tree roots.
Westside Pioneer photo

       On the Saturday with Cipoletti, the ranger pointed out some of the aspects that make working the Garden challenging. For starters, the park is like a magnet, for locals as well as tourists. On this Saturday, which happened to be the first fairly warm day in January, most of the parking lots were full or nearly so and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper in places. Then there's the fact that the Garden is wide open, with no entrance gates where people can be handed information about park rules. So it's not surprising that newcomers often drive in, see some of the rock spires and think it's OK to start climbing them.
       Picture-taking is also constant. People driving along might see a shot and want to pull over on what appears to be a roadside shoulder. What's not always recognized is that the “shoulder” is actually a bike lane that's not supposed to be blocked, Cipoletti pointed out.
       Sometimes bighorn sheep stray down from the hills above the park. This is another lure for park visitors, who follow them, out of curiosity and/or to take pictures. In doing so, for example, from the main parking lot off Juniper Way Loop, they are likely to go off-trail and, not realizing that the park's northernmost border is just on the other side of the road from the lot, inadvertently trespass into the privately owned Glen Eyrie property.
       “People come and they're amazed at the beauty,” Cipoletti said. “They're not looking at the signs.” But at the same time, he's not necessarily calling for more signs, because that would detract from the Garden's natural beauty.
       During just an hour and a half on a recent Saturday, Cipoletti explained the rules to three different groups of people whom he saw get off the established trails, and he said afterward he'd seen others he didn't have the opportunity to get to.
       As for climbing, the park allows the practice for people who have equipment and register at the Visitor Center. In 2013 alone, 5,000 people signed up, he said.
       “It's a very popular park,” Cipoletti summed up. “It needs some kind of presence all the time. It's great they're putting more people on.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/17/14)

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