Ranger keeps watchful eye on Waterloo Park facilities

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local
Wes Pike stands in the center of Waterloo Park and inspects the brand-new playground structure erected last winter and dedicated recently.
About a dozen children whoop and chatter, running around and climbing all over the equipment, which replaces a structure that had to be dismantled due to vandalism. The new one, which stands on a child-friendly surface, was installed by Linn County Parks employees.
That’s one of the things Pike says he likes about his job as park ranger at Waterloo: “When we put our minds to it,” he said, “we’ll put together, build and finish anything.”
Pike also enjoys managing the wide range of activities Waterloo has to offer.
“I like the different opportunities here, as far as, like we’re the only county park that has disc golf,” he said. “That’s huge here.”
Pike said that vehicles will literally fill the parking areas during summer tournaments. “The course is really challenging,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
He noted that a group called “The Eggheads” had stopped at the park the previous week “with really tiny little trailers.
“You’ll meet really cool groups of people who come through here,” he said.
Then there’s the water.
“People who go river-rafting through here, they love it,” Pike said. “It’s cold – it’s super-cold, but it’s also kind of an interesting dynamic of Waterloo: We have two boat ramps, an upper and lower, and a swim beach.”
The park also has flush toilets, showers, playgrounds and picnic shelters – in short, it’s full-service.

WITH COUNTY PARKS Commissioner Rachel Maynard at the playground structure constructed at Waterloo Park by County Parks staffers are, from left, John Hefty, Brett Tetzlaff, Kade Pulliam, Wes Pike and Tristan Davis.

This wasn’t necessarily what Pike originally planned to do when he left Bear Lake, Idaho, to pursue a degree in environmental science and biology at Arizona State University.
He came to Oregon some 16 years ago after completing college. He started with Linn County Parks just over five years ago, after his wife heard about a job opportunity with the department while at the Waterloo Store. He began in 2017 as a seasonal ranger.
“I came in and applied, and I guess they liked what they saw; I just ended up staying on,” Pike said, noting with a chuckle that his permanent position with the Parks Department started on a “Friday, the 13th.”
Pike has worked at Waterloo since, taking over as park ranger the following year, with responsibilities that include the county’s south part: McDowell Creek Park, McKercher Park, McClun County Wayside, McCartney County Park and other county facilities extending to the Willamette River. Later he took over North County operations as well – John Neal and Roaring River parks, and various boat ramp facilities north of Lebanon and Sweet Home.
He’s responsible for making sure operations are running smoothly, “making sure everyone’s doing their jobs, making sure about everything from the bathrooms are clean to there’s not a tree that’s going to drop on your head, making sure that there’s not somebody coming in the middle of the night, stealing stuff from your campsite, making sure you stay safe and that you enjoy your time here,” he said. “If you need firewood or whatever, you know we’re here for whatever you need us to do.”
It’s never boring, he adds.
“You find yourself responding to all sorts of things,” Pike said. “We never know what we’re gonna do; it’s the least monotonous job I’ve ever been in. You can wake up and think you’re going to do one thing and 10 minutes later it’s changed four times.”
Pike loves the job, though it’s definitely not what he had in mind back in college.
“I was almost going more for something like entomology or something like bugs, things like that.”
He said a big part of what he likes about County Parks is the staff.
“The people I work with, I think, are the best I’ve ever met,” Pike said. “I mean, you can have a horrible job and as long as your coworkers are, you know, amazing, it can be an amazing experience. Or, you can have the greatest job in the world and if you work with people you can’t stand, it’s horrible. Thankfully, I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
He said parks employees are equally dedicated “so that, when we all come together, we can get anything done. They’re always there, inside and outside of work,. We’re kind-of like a little family.”
It’s taken some staff effort to get Waterloo into its current state.
“We had some problems,” Pike said. “We had a lot of drug use, you know, needles, things like that. And we cracked down really hard for the first couple of years. That made me extremely unpopular with a lot of people, but in the end, it had to be done. I think Waterloo is better off for it.
“We’re trying to basically just keep the park clean, keep the crime out keep people safe.”
So what have been the biggest surprises of this unplanned career choice?
“That nothing really surprises me any more,” Pike said. “You think you’ve seen everything in public, I’ll show you something.”