Park Rangers mounted unit rides again

July 9, 2010
By

David Taber

The Boston Park Rangers mounted unit—stabled in Franklin Park—was spared disbandment, at least for the time being, when the city’s new fiscal year started June 30, thanks to leftover money from a private fundraising effort that saved the then-eight horse unit last year.

The decision to keep the mounted unit running until October came despite repeated comments from city officials in recent months indicating that the unit would be disbanded this year.

Boston Parks Department spokesperson Mary Hines told the Gazette this week that the future of the unit will likely be dependent on the capacity of private donors. “As it stands now, if the money can be raised, the horses can stay,” she said.

Funding for the horses was cut from the city budget in 2009 and was not included in the city’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Hines told the Gazette that $55,000 leftover from a 2009 private fundraising effort for the mounted unit—spearheaded by the Jamaica Plain-based Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC)—means care for the horses will be funded at least through October of this year.

The fund-raising effort raised $140,000 for non-personnel costs associated with care of the horses and for the hiring of seasonal park rangers in Fiscal Year 2009.

The continuation of the mounted unit comes after months of lobbying from the ENC. Throughout the spring, Hines repeatedly told the Gazette the unit would be disbanded despite those efforts.

Advocates for the horses, including officials from the Boston Park Rangers Association—a union representing the rangers—have said the horses serve important public safety and public relations roles in city parks. Hines has said caring for the horses is a drain on the Boston Parks workforce at a time when staffing levels are low due to budget constraints.

Hines declined to comment on what inspired the decision to maintain the unit.

“The conservancy and donors are work with the city on a long-term agreement so this does not become an issue year after year,” ENC Executive Director Julie Crockford told the Gazette. “Many people who are interested in the park rangers program believe the mounted unit is the heart and soul of the program, and are interested in working with [Boston Parks] Commissioner Antonia Pollak and the mayor to find a way to fund it in perpetuity.”

In recent months, the ENC has sent out at least one e-mail soliciting donations to preserve the mounted unit.

One of the horses from the mounted unit, a 26-year-old equine named Jazz, died in May.