‘Lone rangers’ of Douglas County

Protecting the hikers, bikers, natural resources, wildlife and forestry

Posted 8/25/09

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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‘Lone rangers’ of Douglas County

Protecting the hikers, bikers, natural resources, wildlife and forestry


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 funding, fifty-fifty.

“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 office.

“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 added.

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 off-track next.”

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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