Rosanna Arens was in the grocery business for 18 years. Five years ago, she made a midlife career change which ultimately led her to become Columbia’s first and only park ranger, a new position created by the city Parks and Recreation Department.
Arens, 39, accepted the position in December to patrol the city’s parks starting this spring. Her position was created to keep crime at a minimum while educating the community about taking good care of the city’s natural resources.
“This is a really well-rounded position because it includes both enforcement and interaction with community members,” Arens said.
Arens, a Columbia resident for 18 years, left her position as a liquor manager at Gerbes in Columbia in 1999 with hopes of becoming a liquor control agent. After completing law enforcement training at MU, she became a deputy sheriff and bailiff in Cooper County.
After a year on the job, Arens wanted to do something different. She applied and landed the job of park ranger at Harry S. Truman State Park in Warsaw. When the same position became available at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, one of the state’s biggest, she jumped at the chance.
About six months ago, she started looking for a position in Columbia in hopes of being closer to her two teenage children.
Columbia had been discussing the possibility of hiring a park ranger for the last several years.
“We had a bunch of public meetings at locations all around Columbia and more enforcement in Columbia’s parks was always something that came up,” said Mike Griggs, parks service manager for the city.
Arens will work hand-in-hand with the Columbia Police Department. She is currently doing periodic ride-alongs with officers, learning to use the department’s computer and records system and being shown how to write reports.
“She will handle more of the minor issues, and anything more serious she will refer to us,” Police Chief Randy Boehm said.
Arens will also head the training of the Park Patrol, a volunteer group that helps keep Columbia’s trails and parks safe and well-kept.
Arens’ jurisdiction will cover 58 parks and facilities.
“We hope to hire her some part-time help,” Griggs said, though he was unsure about when additional positions would be created. “It would be nice to have another person trained in law enforcement, but it all depends on who we get because we can’t pay a lot.”
Griggs said the parks sales tax is one reason Parks and Recreation was able to create the ranger position. Her yearly salary is about $30,000.
“The way Columbia is growing, we have an increased need for this,” Griggs said.
Suburbs in St. Louis and Kansas City have employed park rangers for some time, Griggs said.
For now, Arens is waiting for her equipment to arrive and, in the meantime, writing the policies that she, and eventually her employees, will follow.
“I was nervous at first, but now that I’ve gotten my feet wet, I’m ready to get started,” she said.