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Local

Mount up – volunteer ranger group helps keep forest preserves safe

Kane County Mounted Rangers (from left) Connie Blaney, Daryl Paddock and Dianne Lye ride through Big Rock Forest Preserve.
Kane County Mounted Rangers (from left) Connie Blaney, Daryl Paddock and Dianne Lye ride through Big Rock Forest Preserve.

For about 30 years, the Kane County Mounted Rangers group and its horses have been patrolling Kane County forest preserves with the intention of deterring crime. The volunteers also carry first-aid kits, do search and rescue, direct traffic for cross country races and march in parades.

“They’re a wonderful group of people, and they’re a tremendous help,” said Mike Gilloffo, chief of police for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. “We have over 90 properties scattered all over the county, and trying to patrol those with the police I have budgeted is a tremendous task.”

There are many forest preserve areas that the forest preserve police can’t access from their vehicles, and it’s those areas where people often might be tempted to go against the warning signs. Many times, the warnings are about safety. It is in these areas that the mounted rangers can go, often giving reminders that encourage people to keep a safe and family-friendly environment.

One place that’s off the road that many people find tempting is in the Big Rock Forest Preserve.

“There’s a lake, and it’s very dangerous,” Gilloffo said. “The rangers make that one of their patrol areas. They just tell the kids, and they get out.

“They can get back into more remote areas that are only accessible on foot or on horse.”

Daryl Paddock is the president of the Kane County Mounted Rangers. As do his fellow rangers, he wears an official uniform and has a badge. He and his horse, Domino, had to be tested and trained.

“If we see someone swimming in a rock quarry that says ‘no swimming,’ we call them out of it and explain why they can’t do that,” Paddock said. “When you’re on patrol and there’s a problem and you approach them on horseback, people are intimidated by that. They listen to you.”

That automatic respect often garnered by the horses makes being a ranger easier. Paddock said that people skills are just as important.

“Rangers represent the forest preserve in a warm and professional manner,” he said. “One of the skills we look for is how you interact with the general public.”

The horses also have to be friendly and capable of remaining calm among crowds of people or in the presence of loud sounds.

The community of volunteer rangers also is appealing to many who join the group, which has regular meetings and always patrols in pairs.

“I’ve been doing it for the last three years,” Paddock said. “It’s the camaraderie between the people, and it’s just one of those things that you get hooked on. You’re riding your horse and helping at the same time. What could be better than that?”

Horse lovers can probably relate to Paddock’s philosophy on the animals.

“I call it my sanity,” he said. “If I’m in a bad mood, then I’ll go out with my horse for an hour and feel better. ... I’m a young 72 years old, and I don’t feel like I’m 72. I still ride my horses. ... The little boy in me wants to be a cowboy.”

The Kane County Mounted Rangers are seeking new members. Participants must be at least 21 years old.

Those interested in volunteering can call the Forest Preserve District of Kane County at 630-232-5980 for more information or visit www.kaneforest.com.

Although having access to a horse or mule is important, some volunteers patrol on foot.

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