William Brown Takes on Ranger Role at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park

Writer / Carrie Vittitoe
Photography Provided

Imagine a job in which you get to stand beneath a mighty oak listening to birds chatter in the early morning hours as the sun peaks over the horizon. Some days you’re lucky enough to spot a white-tailed deer darting into or out of a wooded area. Maybe you catch sight of an elusive fox sneaking across a leaf-strewn trail. This immersion in the natural world is simply part of the life of a law enforcement officer.Ranger

This is part of the life of a ranger at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in eastern Jefferson County, one of Kentucky’s 45 state parks. It has been several years since this position was filled, but 30-year law enforcement veteran William Brown was sworn in during the month of January in 2023, and he is excited to be the face of safety and security at the park.

A park ranger at a state park in Kentucky is a bit different from a park ranger you might see at a national park in Colorado, Utah or Montana. Those positions fall under the U.S. Department of the Interior, so rangers in national parks have educational or ambassadorial roles (although some rangers are required to hold a firearm). “Here in Kentucky, a ranger is a peace officer,” Brown says. “A ranger has arrest powers, police powers, on the premises. Once we leave the premises, we turn into regular citizens.” Like national park rangers, though, Brown and other Kentucky state park rangers do serve as ambassadors, intent on making the park an enjoyable place for visitors.

Brown grew up in the Valley Station area and began his career in Metro Corrections, where he spent over five years, but he decided to spread his wings a bit. He spent the next 13 years with Louisville Metro where he worked in many different capacities, including patrolman and homicide detective. It was a bit of a dream for him since, as a kid, he always envisioned either becoming a basketball player or a policeman. “Unfortunately I didn’t grow too tall,” he says. When he did take the path to law enforcement, he quickly realized he had some natural skills that helped him. “I learned very quickly that I like talking,” he says. “I was a pretty good interviewer with people.”

His communication skills helped him get guns off the street, a task that he says was especially meaningful for him, and it also helped him with solving homicide cases. “Taking a murderer off the street is a great feeling,” he says. However, working these cases weighed on him. “You’re dealing with a lot of sad people, a lot of unhappy moms and dads,” he says.

After retiring with 20 years of service, he moved to the University of Louisville Police Department. “That was a planned thing because if you go, whether you’re a policeman, a carpenter or a professor, any of your children who choose to go to that school go for free,” Brown says. He then moved to a couple small police departments, including West Buechel, but as he entered his sixth Rangerdecade, he talked to his adult children and decided he would be OK with slowing down just a little bit. Even though he was in a small department, it was a hands-on job that resulted in a lot of stress, due in part to being short-staffed. While age 52 certainly isn’t old, Brown was starting to feel the effects of three decades of police work and was concerned about what his health could be if he didn’t slow down a bit.

Brown was open to the idea of moving outside of Louisville for a state park ranger job,  but was thrilled when he discovered the position at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park. Sandwiched between Hurstbourne Parkway and Freys Hill Road, the park is a respite surrounded by neighborhoods and businesses. It offers numerous amenities including a pool and splash pad, a BMX track, pickleball courts, and a radio-controlled airfield.

As a ranger Brown is responsible for security and safety in the park, which could range from replacing a lightbulb to ensuring areas are well-lit to speaking to an individual in a suspicious vehicle. He has to know the park like the back of his hand, including all walking trails, because, should an emergency arise, he needs to know the most efficient ways to get to various points. The park is, for Brown, the size of a city patrol beat, which he is used to, but “the biggest change is that 95% of the people I see are there to have a good time,” he says.

Still, there is always a possibility that something untoward can happen, which is why park rangers in the state have a background in law enforcement. “If the stuff hits the fan, I know I’ll be able to handle it,” Brown says. While the winter months are generally quieter than the rest of the year, Brown expects that the summer will see more issues, such as teenagers loitering, vandalism, and excessive speed on the park’s roads. Being a longtime law enforcement officer has its benefits, primarily because of the wisdom that comes with experience. “It helps to have a maturity level so you don’t fly off the handle quickly on something that, maybe if you assessed it slower, could have been smoothed out,” he says.

To be a park ranger, it’s a good idea to actually enjoy the outdoors, and Brown does. He often takes his three grandsons fishing, and he spends a lot of time outside in his yard. He’s also a big fan of Otter Creek Recreation Area in Meade County, Kentucky. He says knowing he could be outside 80% of the time in the ranger role was a big selling point. In his first few weeks in the position, he spotted a one-rack deer and a coyote. He enjoys taking pictures of nature, so his role as a ranger is feeding the creative side of his personality.Ranger

Life often takes people on unexpected roads they might not have anticipated when they were younger. It’s likely that most young people wouldn’t envision that a life as a police officer could bring them so fully into nature as a state park ranger. Brown says young people don’t have to get a degree in police administration or criminal justice to have a successful career. “You can go into communications, psychology, social work, and you’ll make an awesome police officer,” he says. “You won’t be pigeonholing yourself into one thing.”

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