COLUMBIA – If you're looking for Chris Ingersoll, he's probably riding his blue Trek on a city trail.
Ingersoll, 58, has been using Columbia's trails since 1990 to make his 20-mile round trip commute to work, bicycling more than 65,000 miles and logging more than 800 hours as a Park Patrol volunteer.
The city's Volunteer Programs Department is looking for new Park Patrol volunteers. A training session will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in conference room 1A in the Daniel Boone City Building for anyone older than 18 who's interested. Potential volunteers must undergo a background check before becoming a volunteer. For more information, contact Leigh Britt at 874-7504.
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The fish biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia became a volunteer about six years ago.
Although he's been cycling his entire life, Ingersoll committed to using city trails 24 years ago to lose the "sympathy weight" he gained during his wife's second pregnancy.
What started as a push for long-term fitness became a cathartic ritual. Ingersoll makes his almost hour-long, 10-mile commute to and from work four to five times a week.
"In my 10-mile ride, about seven miles of it is on the trail," Ingersoll said. "Near Cherry Hill is where I start, and I can get on the southern loop of the trail, across from about Scott Boulevard, all the way over to Grindstone Parkway, and kind of wind through there."
For those seven miles on the trails to and from work, Ingersoll wears his Park Patrol badge and bright yellow vest.
"I'm doing Park Patrol, then, every time I'm on the trail," he said.
Ingersoll volunteered for Park Patrol after a friend mentioned he hiked Columbia's trails as a volunteer. Ingersoll, already a frequent figure on Columbia's trail system, decided to get involved.
"It seemed like an easy thing to do to help keep the trails in better condition," he said.
The volunteer program started in 1997 to keep the city's parks and trails safe and clean.
"Park Patrol serves as an ambassador on the trails; they give a friendly face," said Leigh Britt, Columbia's neighborhood service manager. "They keep an eye out for maintenance or suspicious activity."
Following a sexual assault near the trail in broad daylight, the city wanted an extra initiative to keep trail users safe, Britt said. Since there already were efforts by the police on the trails, the volunteer program was established.
"There were no park rangers in 1997, so Park Patrol was a supplement," she said.
"It just adds an extra set of eyes on the trail just for safety," Ingersoll said. "You can't have the police out on the trail constantly, and it's helping the city maintain the trail and giving a safer atmosphere."
In fiscal 2013, there were about 50 volunteers in the program, and the group logged about 2,271 total hours, Britt said.
"When I'm riding home, if I don't see at least one or two Park Patrolers during my seven miles on the trail, I'd say it's an unusual day," Ingersoll said. "I'd like to think that somebody thinks twice about doing something bad on the trail because Park Patrol is out there."
"The main thing I'm doing is reporting downed trees," Ingersoll said. "Most of the time we're reminding people that if there's a dog that it needs to be on a leash or you can't put a motorized vehicle on the trails."
Park Patrol volunteers can walk, run or ride a bike while monitoring the trails and are required to log at least four hours per month between April and October.
But logging hours on the trails isn't a problem for Ingersoll. He bikes year-round, sometimes enduring extreme conditions.
"My records are anywhere from around 108 degrees in the summer, and my record low is 6 below, and I don't know if I want to break either record," he said.
Since he started riding 24 years ago, Columbia's trails have come a long way.
"It was hard starting out. The trail system wasn't there back in the early nineties. It was a lot more riding on the roads that didn't have bike lanes," he said. "The whole trail system that's come through, the hundreds of miles of trails, have really made bike riding safer and much easier."
The trail system is "a real jewel," Ingersoll said. "I think it really is the real backbone of what the city does to try and give opportunities of alternate city transportation."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.