A new era has begun for Hesperia parks.

The Hesperia Recreation and Park District's board of directors last Wednesday unanimously voted to hire Jack Thomas as the chief ranger of its park system.
"I'm personally proud to be part of this," board member Bob Chandler said about Thomas' selection.

"I think we picked the right person," added board member Rebekah Swanson.

In the process of hiring Thomas, the park district also resurrected its ranger program, which went into dormancy several years ago. The board also approved the new park ranger manual, which borrows policy concepts from the VVC police manual.

Since the park district put its ranger on hold, the district has used both Citizens On Patrol and park service officers. In the event a sworn peace officer was needed, the district called the Hesperia Police Department, which would send a deputy. Thomas' experience will enable the district to tailor a park ranger program specifically to its needs. That result is expected to be a cost-effective and smoothly-run operation.

"This is very cost-effective," said Park District Administrator Cal Camara. "That's why we're doing this."

VIETNAM VETERAN

Born on a farm in Missouri, Thomas joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. He served in Vietnam and later served in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1995. Afterward, he was hired as chief of police for VVC.

Thomas, 58, previously lived in Hesperia. He currently resides in Apple Valley and has a son and daughter and six grandchildren.

"It's a good opportunity," he said. "It's neat."

Thomas believes his most important task is seeing what's needed to build the park ranger force.

"I'll be doing a lot of evaluating. I'll identify the needs and take care of them."

Hesperia parks are currently safe, Thomas said, but a change in demographics could create challenges that need to be addressed proactively.

"We want to maintain the positive side of visiting the parks. We want this park system to run smoothly and safely."

The affable, charming Thomas was the appropriate choice to head Hesperia park ranger program for many reasons, said Lindsay Woods, administrative operations manager.

"We were looking for somebody who was a little more seasoned," Woods said. "We're confident that Jack and his life experiences will lend themselves to leading the program. His track record at VVC speaks for itself."

Thomas also is a VVC instructor who teaches firearms, cultural diversity and other related law enforcement topics.

Woods also encourages visitors of the district's 19 facilities to say hello to Chief Ranger Thomas.

An avid horseman and hunter, Thomas likes to find opportunities to ride his horse, he said. Whether on horseback or on foot, Thomas is ready to serve.

"I'm happy. It's always exciting to start something new," he said.