Ithaca, N.Y. — The sun was out, people were swimming and the rangers that patrol the local swimming hotspot at “Second Dam” were simply doing their jobs.
There were dozens of people out swimming. Only two rangers — tasked with patrolling land from near Route 79 to the other side of the dam — were supposed to make sure their safety was ensured.
Gorge rangers Douglas Brewer, 28, and Carol Czimback, 53, were en-route to the swimming spot to do a safety check and to ensure that no one was illegally swimming in the water, just a short hike from the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve.
Brewer said that he and his fellow ranger are often treated with disrespect — whether they’re kicking out underage drinkers, trying to stop someone from completing a 110-foot jump, or watching piles upon piles of trash being left at the nature reserve.
That July day was no different.
Shortly after arriving, Brewer was confronted by an apparently drunk man who claimed that Brewer wasn’t actually a gorge ranger.
“When I tried to walk by him to address the other people, he wouldn’t let me get by,” Brewer said of the incident involving the man he described as “a scrappy dude – tough, tall, and tattooed.”
The drunk man pushed Brewer and “he followed through with his right hand and hit me in the chin.”
“I was shocked more than anything,” he said.
Brewer said that he believed he was about to get jumped.
“I felt threatened for my life,” he later recalled.
The drunk man, along with five other people he was with, then left the area after authorities were notified of their behavior.
When Brewer tried to call law enforcement, the drunk man tried to take away his city phone, and began yelling obscenities into the phone.
Brewer says that this incident is not uncommon to what he’s been dealing with while patrolling the area as of late.
“That’s the type of behavior lately,” Brewer said of some swimmers at the dam. “It’s been real aggressive.”
1 – Tasked with responsibility, not given the means
Gorge rangers Brewer and Czimback believe that they are given a responsibility to keep the area safe, but are not given the resources to do so effectively.
“With this type of job, the city gives us all this responsibility, and with this responsibility, you have to have a higher authority than what we have,” Brewer said.
The rangers have no way to defend themselves, he said. They do not carry weapons, and they don’t have the authority to write tickets.
Brewer noted that a lot of underage drinking takes place at the dam, but that he and Czimback are unable to do anything about it.
“Without Second Dam,” he said, “our job would literally be a walk in the park.”
When Brewer was hired as a gorge ranger three years ago, he had no idea that he would be enforcing laws.
“I thought I was going to be walking the trails and educating people on invasive species,” said Brewer, who has a degree in environmental studies. “I had no idea about the enforcement part.”
Now, however, Brewer said that coming to the swimming hole puts both his and his partner’s safety at risk.
“If someone wanted to do something with us, we’re not carrying weapons,” he said. “We’re not peace officers. With this type of job, you have to be a peace officer.”
Brewer said that his first year as a ranger, they were tasked to complete their responsibilities in their street clothes, with no form of communication with law enforcement. It wasn’t until last year that the Ithaca Police Department got involved and the rangers were given uniforms and a radio, they said.
Still, it’s not enough, he said.
“There are situations where we would like some type of security for ourselves … When I come down here, and there’s 100 people drunk — it becomes a mob mentality,” he said. “Those are situations where it gets real hairy.”
2 – Safe and fun – is it possible?
Czimback, who has experience dealing with juvenile delinquents, said that she and Brewer are the only two rangers for the entirety of the area. This means that most of the time, the area goes unsupervised, she said.
When there is no supervision, Brewer said, it’s easy for people to get hurt at Second Dam.
In the video below, Brewer shows where he’s seen and heard about various injuries at Second Dam.
Brewer noted that injured people need to be extracted from the site, a process which he says costs the city “a lot of money, a lot of resources, and a lot of manpower.”
He also mentioned that certain parks in Wyoming and California fine the person that ends up needing rescue the cost of the rescue. “That may be something they want to look into here,” he added.
Even though Brewer and Czimback both agree that the amount of illegal swimming and jumping at Second Dam is worrisome, they are confident that their efforts have made it a safer place in general.
“We’ve definitely changed the behavior here since we’ve been here,” said Brewer.
Czimback said that the rangers before their time weren’t as active as they are.
“They wouldn’t come down here — period. They were passive. I don’t blame them for being intimidated of this place. You’re coming down here with a bunch of drunk, aggressive people and it can be intimidating,” said Brewer.
3 – Trashing of nature
Some people that use the swimming area have left an array of beer cans, glass bottles, garbage bags, cardboard boxes, and plastic bottles along the trail leading to the water.
Brewer recalled seeing used tampons, newspapers, musty towels, and glass bottles littered at the nature reserve over his last few years as a ranger.
The trash pile pictured above, from around July 5, doesn’t even come close in size to the trash he encountered his first summer as a ranger, Brewer said.
“My first summer here, this was all covered with trash — bad. You couldn’t even describe it. It wouldn’t do it any justice. You couldn’t see rock,” he recalled.
The rangers said that they used to come clean up the area, but regardless of their efforts, trash would still pile up at the spot. The rangers noted that nowhere in their job description states that they are responsible for cleaning up the trash left at the site.
Eventually, they said they stopped picking up the trash. Then it started accumulating. They didn’t want to send the message that they were there to pick up everyone’s garbage.
“We were upset with the people’s behaviors here and the way they’re treating us,” said Brewer. “Why would we reward them?”