A red fox, bobcat and ring tail sit on display in Douglas County Senior Park Ranger Tom Welle’s office. “They keep the three of us in here with …
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A red fox, bobcat and ring tail sit on display in Douglas County
Senior Park Ranger Tom Welle’s office.
“They keep the three of us in here with the rest of the
animals,” Welle said, referring to his two sidekicks, Park Rangers
Scott McEldowney, and Dave Hause.
The three “lone rangers” are responsible for the protection of
the visiting public on approximately 12,000-acres of open space in
Douglas County. That includes 90 miles of trails, used for hiking,
biking and horseback riding.
“Our natural resources, land, and any structures, artifacts,
historic structures, on that property as well,” Welle said.
The Division of Parks and Trails and the Division of Open Space
and Natural Resources support the rangers and their programs with
“We probably put about 200 miles in each day,” McEldowney said.
That mileage includes McEldowney’s four-legged friend, Ronie, his
white horse, “We call him Silver.”
McEldowney manages the mount patrol, and more than 15 volunteer
riders. He is a former ranger with the state park system, and has a
degree in Outdoor Recreation from Western State College. He first
met Welle as a seasonal ranger with the county, during the Hayman
fires, and became full-time after that.
The camaraderie between the three men seems effortless, as they
joke about being one of the stuffed creatures sitting in the
“That bobcat was hit over by Wolfensberger,” Hause said. “I
almost ended up like he did.”
All kidding aside, the animals, left by road kill, are then sent
to taxidermists, and then utilized for outreach education and
instructional training, so they don’t go to waste.
Forestry maintenance is coordinated through their office as well
as fishery management and wildfire mitigation work.
“I came from 30 years of experience from Colorado State Parks,
and there were a lot of water based areas,” Hause said. “So
everyone thought I knew everything about fish.”
Hause has worked closely with the Bingham Lake in Parker,
evaluating fish, assessing temperatures, and maintaining a
“neighborhood” feel for the area.
The dynamic trio manages to cover their territory with two
rangers on duty at all times, including weekends. They have a
commission for law enforcement through Douglas County Sheriff’s
Office, but it is limited.
“We don’t enforce traffic codes, or cars for speeding,” Welle
said. “But we have assisted the SWAT team on occasions.”
Along with special emergency situations with the sheriff’s
office, poaching in Douglas County can also create a higher risk to
the ranger’s day-to-day activities.
“Some people will shoot anything, but with the economy getting
worse, that kind of activity gets worse,” Welle added.
A high percentage of the ranger’s time is spent trying to change
people’s behavior, and “just trying to get them to do what we want
them to do,” Welle said. Between the three of them, they make more
than 18,000 contacts each year, face-to-face with the public.
Welle, a former fire chief in California, admitted their department
spends a lot of brain power on the verbage used on signage
throughout the county. An off-leash prohibited sign for dog owners,
seems to be one that is ignored over and over.
“We see some people snap on their dog’s leash as we come up a
trail head,” McEldowney said. “But usually I’ll say, ‘Hey thanks
for leashing up your dog, its a $50 fine.”
Positive connection with the public is a key component to the
success of these rangers. Both Welle and Hause have brought their
dogs to the dog park while educating the public on the rules. Not
to mention the three are able to use snowshoes, hike, horses, or
whatever means it takes to cover the grounds they do.
“I became acquainted with Tom Welle when I discovered some
mysterious white powder on a trail,” outdoors woman Janene
DiRico-Cable said. “Tom was there to immediately close down the
trail and dog park adjacent to it.”
Although DiRico-Cable said it turned out to be benign, he was
right on it, and they have been friends ever since.
“I use all the Douglas County trails and hike at least two every
single week,” DiRico-Cable added. “I see Scott and Dave out, and
it's amazing how they can canvas so much area.”
DiRico-Cable said her wish is that the citizens of Douglas
County would appreciate the trails, keep them clean and abide by
the rules to keep horses, bikers and hikers safe.
“To ensure we have these natural treasures forever,” she
McEldowney said the passion for the job includes a different
scenario and set of circumstances every day.
“I worked with the FBI one morning after a stolen car was
found,” McEldowney said. “And then you could be helping a hiker
When asked if they liked to vacation in the mountains, and the
outdoors when they have time-off, McEldowney said, “Mexico,” while
Welle answered “Big cities,” laughing.
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