Denver park rangers hope to keep things cool this summer

Denver park rangers hope to keep things cool this summer
Anthony Camera

From the front stoop of a house he's renovating on Mariposa Street, Jim Schneck can see more than he wants to of what goes on across the road in La Alma/Lincoln Park. On most warm days, the regulars begin to gather at the concrete picnic tables by the middle of the afternoon. They divvy up six-packs or pass around bottles of whiskey or wine — sometimes wrapped in a brown paper bag, sometimes not.

In some cases, the gatherings are quiet and uneventful. In others, though, the laughter turns into drunken arguments and fights, peeing and puking. Schneck has seen two brothers, possibly twins, homeless in Denver for more than a decade, start swinging wildly at each other. He's seen veterans of the streets passed out beside their shopping carts, oblivious to the wreckage around them.

He's looked away as beer-bloated men whose bladders are anything but bashful relieve themselves in the open air. He's seen conflicts result in someone being banished from the table, then watched the dispute escalate into a shouting match or other extended scene spilling into the neighborhood — usually right when he's showing an apartment to a prospective tenant.

City councilman Chris Nevitt, Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Parks and Recreation manager Lauri Dannemiller announce additional enforcement measures at Washington Park.
City councilman Chris Nevitt, Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Parks and Recreation manager Lauri Dannemiller announce additional enforcement measures at Washington Park.
DPR deputy manager Scott Gilmore says rangers are allocated to parks based on need.
Anthony Camera
DPR deputy manager Scott Gilmore says rangers are allocated to parks based on need.

Six-foot-four and not easily intimidated, Schneck is frequently in the park himself, tossing a Frisbee to his border collie, Gia. He chats up the regulars and occasionally shouts down the combatants. "I'm there all the time," he says. "I know all the homeless guys. I know what they drink every day. There are guys who've lived in this park for three years."

Schneck makes his living fixing up distressed properties in up-and-coming neighborhoods. He likes places with a quirky history. The house on Mariposa, for example, was once owned by an Italian family who operated a corner grocery store next door. In the 1950s it was a community center for what was still called Auraria, decades before the campus of the same name was built a few blocks away. It later became a medical clinic, then hosted quinceañeras and weddings. Schneck bought it out of foreclosure three years ago, impressed with how quickly the La Alma/Lincoln Park area was changing for the better — thanks to increasing community activism and an influx of young people and gentrifiers drawn by the area's proximity to downtown and light rail, as well as other factors, including a $200 million retooling of Denver Housing Authority units south of the park into a mixed-use, mixed-income development.

"DHA has done an amazing job of making a liability into an asset," Schneck says. "When I saw that was happening, this neighborhood went on my list of places to invest in. I knew it was a tough neighborhood, but it's well positioned for long-term investment."

Despite more than $5 million in upgrades over the past five years, including an improved outdoor pool, some locals believe the park has failed to keep up with the transformation of the neighborhood. They say the situation there is getting worse — and not just because of the homeless presence. Neighbors have complained of suspected drug dealing around the pavilion at the south end of the park.

"The thing that alarms me the most is the intravenous drug use," says Dave Stauffer, who often walks his four dogs in the park. "I've seen people shooting up."

Schneck says it's not the kind of park that attracts mothers pushing baby strollers: "It's not a place my neighbors or my residents are comfortable in. People are reluctant to bring their kids to the park. It's just not a great place to recreate. There are some scary guys over there."

During his frequent visits to the house on Mariposa, Schneck has seen park-maintenance crews routinely picking up the flotsam and trash left behind by the boozing, brawling regulars. But one sight he hasn't seen — not once, he insists — is a park ranger. The same goes for the other tough neighborhood parks near where he owns property. The rangers — those sentinels in khaki who are supposed to inform and educate, hand out warnings and fines, enforce park rules and encourage people to recreate responsibly — just aren't all that visible in areas where Schneck thinks they're needed most.

"I have property all over the city," Schneck says. "I try to help neighborhoods while I'm helping my own investments. But the rangers are rarely in the bad parks."

The ranger program is a relatively new development in the way Denver Parks and Recreation seeks to manage its sprawling inventory, which includes more than 200 urban parks and 100 miles of trails and parkways. Begun in 2006 with just two full-time rangers, the program was intended to enhance visitors' park experiences by providing knowledgeable guides who could answer questions, monitor behavior and deal with minor disturbances in the parks, freeing up the police to focus on more serious crimes. Over the past three years, Mayor Michael Hancock's administration has worked to increase the operation's size and its enforcement powers, which used to be limited to writing tickets for parking infractions, failing to pick up after a dog or letting a pet run off-leash. Last year, with the blessing of Denver City Council, the rangers began issuing citations for a much broader range of violations, encompassing everything from riding your bike too fast to illegal camping and fireworks, with hefty fines ranging from $100 (alcohol violation, first offense) to $999 (destruction of park property, third offense).

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4 comments
openeyes
openeyes

Jim Schneck is an asshole slumlord who's only motivation is money.  He doesn't care one iota about community.  I have known several people who have had the misfortune of having to deal with this man; it seems to be his common practice to rent to people only to find an excuse to evict them after a few months, keep their deposit, and then rent the space to someone else to do it again.  He regularly harasses female tenants (and even admitted to a former tenant of the property from the article that he intentionally tries to rent to "hot chicks".)  He makes up his own rules and expects people to abide by them, while not taking any sort of responsibility for his own actions.  He is an over-privileged liar, a slumlord, and a thief.  He was almost certainly a bully in school, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were diagnosed sociopathic (like too many slumlords in this town.)  Is this the kind of "community leader" we want affecting policy in Denver??

Having lived in the La Alma neighborhood for just a few years, I have seen the gentrifying forces, of which Schneck is a flagbearer, systematically destroy the community.  People like Schneck want nothing more than to cast out the very people that have heritage in this historic neighborhood, to make it just like everywhere else that most people can't afford to live in Denver. 

Stop gentrification!

brendac_420
brendac_420

Sick of these white people gentrifying every last bit of land in Amerika, damn Manifest Destiny asses!

Isn't it quite the HYPOCRISY how white people break laws (leash-law!), however, find no irony in their complaints against people of color? As if YOUR PRIVILEGE allows you to do as you please, while expecting others to abide by what YOU see fit, in a neighborhood where you, Mr. Schneck, are the interloper....

Brenda Carrasco

matt.c.lemay
matt.c.lemay

In light of the great recession of 2007, caused by one housing bubble, and the apparent housing bubble transpiring here now, it's particularly galling that this article's Everyman is a real estate speculator.  Shame on you, Westword.


In addition to interviewing these urban homesteaders and tools of the Hancock administration, I wish Westword had taken the time to find people who'd lived in the La Alma neighborhood all their lives to get their perspectives.


Denver can do with fewer churches converted to condos for finance, sales, and marketing people with hipster dogs and more jobs with dignity for working class folks.

Den-res-2001
Den-res-2001

Unfortunately, the idiocy of the government and humanity strikes again.  The world is run by sheeple 'C' students.  


Every single one of these complaints could be solved with enforcement of the current laws and not with adding more rules, fees, and bullshit to be able to use a "public park".  Washington Park is an enormous tourist attraction and a boon to the local economy and all these rich people who own land by the park who are complaining about it.  Homeowners, you can't have your cake AND eat it too.  Look at your home values.  You think if you owned that home near the middle of Aurora that you'd get the same kind of property value explosion?  No.  The PARK makes those homes so expensive and fuels your asset growth.  You just want the city to tell these "commoners" to get off your lawn.    


Pazen -- how much thousands of dollars do you have to lose in meat before you decide...holy cow, I'm losing a ton of money and maybe my private enterprise should increase security?   


Schneck -- you're a hypocritical jerk.  Complaining about all sorts of rules being broken, but you admit in the press that let your dog run off-leash.  Hypocritical to the first degree.  Call that kettle black Mr. Schneck!

 
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