Volunteers step up for Westside parks

       Some people think the city set out to “punish” its citizens by drastically cutting its parks budget over the past two years. Others think the cuts were unavoidable because a voter majority rejected a tax hike last fall, leaving the city with insufficient funds.

Some people think the city set out to "punish" its citizens by drastically cutting its parks budget over the past two years. Others think the cuts were unavoidable because a voter majority rejected a tax hike last fall, leaving the city with insufficient funds.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Who's right or wrong doesn't matter to some citizens. They're out in the parks volunteering their time, picking up the slack for the city, even adopting trash cans.
       On the Westside, the city lists a dozen or so parks and trails - even a road - that citizens help with. In some cases, they're people in the neighborhood, as with Gretchen Graham (living next to the Palmer Mesa Trail between Fillmore and Uintah streets), Sherry Bennett (a couple of blocks from Blunt Park), and Russ Finsterwald (across from Thorndale Park).
       Another case is Jack and Lani Miller, who live elsewhere but adopted Jackson Park (and its four trash cans) because one of their parents live in Holland Park.
       Sometimes, the adopters are residential volunteer groups, as with the Mesa House and Bristol Neighbors (residents near Bristol Park), Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association (whose area takes in Westmoor Park) and the Holland Park Community Association (which cleans up the Sinton Trail that runs through the neighborhood along Douglas Creek).
       In other cases, businesses have stepped up, as with H20 Landscape Management at Bancroft Park and Cheyenne Village, a non-profit that works with the developmentally disabled, at Vermijo Park. There is even a government entity - the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District, which (in conjunction with the Historic District Mer-chants of Old Colorado City) started looking after the 21st Street Entryway/ Prospector statue grass area in June.
       For Graham, the Palmer Mesa Trail (basically paralleling Mesa Road) was already a familiar stretch when she offered to adopt it about a year ago. She and her husband Mike use the trail when they train for distance races, such as the upcoming Pikes Peak Ascent. Her hope is that keeping it cleaner will help people respect it more and “not pitch things from cars.”
       Living at Fillmore and Mesa, she typically strolls south early on Sunday mornings with three kitchen-size trash bags. The terminus at that end of the trail is several hundred feet north of Uintah, but she patrols all the way to the thoroughfare anyway. The whole task takes about 1 ½ hours, she said. “Mike comes and picks me up and we pick up the sacks I left along the trail.”

Putting life back into the flower bed around the Blunt Park sign is an inititative for Sherry Bennett, in addition to the tasks the city expects of park adopters, such as picking up trash and dog droppings.
Westside Pioneer photo

       What she finds is “mostly liquor bottles and a lot of fast food wrappers and sacks. It's sort of sad, but I keep it looking nice.”
       Although Graham mostly does the cleanup work alone, the trail gets a boost from another nearby resident, Dave Meyer, who uses his riding mower to knock down its weeds. The city used to do that, but stopped as part of the 2009 budget cuts, Graham said.
       Mary Lynn Sheetz and Steve Handen have lived near Bristol Park, next to Bristol Elementary on North Walnut Street, for about 20 years, and right across from it for the past 8. “We just love having the park in our neighborhood,” said Sheetz, on behalf of the Mesa House and Bristol Neighbors volunteer groups, which started its adoption over the past year. “It's a great place for the kids to congregate.”
       She estimated that about 15 residents regularly volunteer cleanup time there. Trash is the usual problem, but sometimes the park's four picnic tables get vandalized or grafitti-tagged, and neighborhood volunteers have to repair and/or paint them.
       Some weeks ago, as part of a citywide cost-saving measure, the city removed Bristol Park's one trash can, but put it back at the neighbors' request and their pledge to empty it as its “adopters,” Sheetz said.
       Westmoor Park has a similar trash-can arrangement, except that it's a bigger park, with three trash cans. The park gets plenty of use, with tennis courts, a children's playground, picnic area, sports field and baseball diamond. The city's removal of the cans for a few months this year helped spur the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association (PVNA) into action, according to Ryan Tefertiller, who has coordinated the effort. With the park use, especially near the picnic area, “the trash can be overflowing,” he said.
       The PVNA, whose area off 31st Street takes in more than 800 homes, decided on a plan in which members take turns being “trash stewards,” Tefertiller explained. The association bought trash bags and gloves for that purpose. A big task for stewards is dragging the bags once a week to the large bin provided by a local hauler. Luckily, some residents by the park agreed to let the bin be put in their yard, he said.
       As a city employee himself (in Land Use Review), Tefertiller said he's had discussions here and there with other association volunteers about the city's decision to cut back on parks. “I tell them the general philosopy that council is sticking to, which is not to cut core services,” he said. “I may not change their opinions, but at least they're listening.”
       Dave Finch's H20 Landscape Management business is on the eastside (off Platte and Boulder), but he described himself as “an old Westsider,” going back two generations, and thus he's pleased to send one of his crews to Bancroft Park every Wednesday morning. The volunteer work, which started this year, involves mowing, trimming, weed control and fertilization. “I offered to do it, and they [City Parks] took me up on it,” he said.
       He described the maintenance as a “mutual effort. They control the watering and stay on top of quality control. If they feel like I'm slacking, they call me up.”
       At Vermijo Park, every other Monday, Cheyenne Village counselor Linda Brattain leads three or four of the agency's clients out to pick up trash. Cheyenne Village adopted the park several years ago. The volunteers tend to find a lot of cigarette butts near the backstop and “a lot of kiddy trash” near the playground. “Our clients like to make a game out of it,” she said, “to see who can pick up the most garbage.”
       Another longstanding adopter is the Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG), which for years has taken care of 30th Street from Water Street to Garden of the Gods Road (about two miles).
       Year-round, FOGG crews of 8 to 10 people go out on the third Saturday of the month, according to its president, John Demmon. On the annual Earth Day, with as many as 150 volunteers, the non-profit friends group even seeks to clean up the entire Garden of the Gods. “It just amazes me what people will throw out of their cars and leave along walking paths and trails,” he said. “We try to keep it reasonably tidy to make the approaches to the Garden of the Gods presentable to our visitors.”
       Volunteers are welcome to join the monthly cleanup days. Those interested can call in advance at 548-1868.
       The park adopters are coordinated through City Parks. Their point person is Stacy Stang, at 385-6519. “With reduced park staffing, they're helping us a lot,” she said. “There are extra eyes in the parks, especially with the trash can adoptions. The neighbors are appreciative and I know we're appreciative.”

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