It’s not a Frank Lloyd Wright, exactly, but the newly erected hut in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park will at least give the city’s new ranger a place to escape the cold. Jennifer Payne, formerly a security guard in the North Carolina Department of Corrections, has already taken her post at the park, a role that is intended to ease the pressure on the Police Department while providing an eye on the area.
“I’m just thrilled to have the help,” says Park Warden Keith Whittington. “I’ve been spread so thin.” The idea isn’t new; the city already has rangers working in parks on Amboy and Azalea roads, for example.
Whittington isn’t the only one feeling relieved. Pritchard Park has found itself at the epicenter of downtown controversy, featuring prominently in debates about the homeless, tourism, the weekly drum circle and a growing downtown residential population. Mayor Terry Bellamy has even suggested modifying the park’s design to make it harder for people to use the area as an outdoor bathroom. Those concerns, says Parks and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons, led to discussion among city staff about hiring a permanent ranger for the park.
“The Pritchard Park issue has been going on for a while,” he notes. “There needs to be some sort of ambassador, some type of monitor in that area.”
On any given day, Asheville police officers can be seen mingling with regulars at the park, which Simmons says puts unneeded strain on the department.
“The police can’t be everywhere all the time,” he observes. (Despite repeated efforts, Xpress was unable to obtain hard numbers from the APD regarding the number of complaints received about the park or the amount of police resources devoted to watching over it.)
Payne’s shifts run Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m to 6 p.m. At other times, says Simmons, maintenance personnel or police will pick up the slack. “We will have someone monitoring the area most of the time,” he explains.
But the ranger’s duties won’t be limited to enforcement, Simmons notes. She’ll also provide information about both downtown and the city’s parks system.
As for the kiosk’s clunky design, Simmons says it’s only a provisional structure that will be replaced by something more permanent once his department determines the specific needs at that location.
“This is just a temporary trial to see how it works,” he explains.