Portland park ranger’s cause turns to paws

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PORTLAND — While ensuring people on two legs follow city park rules, Paige Button is making friends four paws at a time.

Button, the new full-time city park ranger, has been on the job since late August 2015. She spent the first week of the new year walking the terrain, greeting visitors who are now mostly dog walkers.

“More than 80 percent of the time, I am interacting with dogs,” Button said Jan. 8 in Quarry Run Park on Ocean Avenue.

A former dog trainer and owner of two Siberian huskies, Button said she expects the steps she takes now will pay off when the weather warms and a wider variety of park visitors emerge.

Button, who began her municipal career in the city horticulture department last June, said she wants to become a familiar face as she settles into the job. While greeting dogs, she also observes their owners. Are they carrying leashes as required, even when dogs are allowed off line? Are they carrying bags to take away feces?

“Almost any time a dog uses a park, the owner is going to have to clean up after them,” she said.

The trail at Quarry Run Park was pocked with reminders that some dog owners do not clean up after their pets, as required by city ordinance. A citation can lead to a $250 fine, but Button’s intent is to first make sure visitors are aware of the rules.

While out, Button will stop and reward owners and dogs for their efforts to follow the rules. The dogs get treats and small tennis balls left over from Button’s training days. The owners get cards reminding them of the rules, along with other information.

“We should be more like ambassadors,” she said. “… want to let them know I appreciate them doing the right thing, (although) I don’t necessarily plan on giving out 20 to 30 rewards per week.”

The full-time park ranger position was created in 2014. But it wasn’t filled through the budget year because of the city’s spending freeze related to the loss of state reimbursement for General Assistance vouchers given to undocumented immigrants.

Button, a 2012 graduate of the University of Maine in Orono, where she studied conservation and land management, said she knows enforcement is a critical part of the job.

“But I’ve found if we can change our approach, we can be more successful,” she said. “I want to create a sense of responsibility and park ownership.”

The territory is large.

Button oversees more than 50 parks and parcels, including dedicated dog parks at Quarry Run and on Valley Street. She said the Eastern Promenade has been most challenging so far, because of it’s size and because it links to other trails.

From May through October, Button will also have part-time help, and she hopes to have her assistants concentrate on particular areas of management without duplicating efforts. The rangers will also be on duty during big events and concerts at the parks.

For now, Button is enjoying the visits with people and pets.

“We have the time to change the relationships,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Park Ranger Paige Button shares treats with Dozer and Jacoby at Quarry Run Park Jan. 8. The dogs were visiting the park with Mary Darcy, center, and her siblings Christie and Dan Darcy.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.