Friday, June 20, 2008

City to residents: Be park smart

City parks not getting respect they deserve

Officials decry trash, misuse, vandalism

By Mariana Stebbins
Special to the Register
— Trash and tire marks in city parks are visible proof of the abuse the parks have already taken this year, even before the summer season kicks in.
While the problems are not new, they are increasing, said Bob Levine, director of the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees.
Factor in the high price of gasoline, which will keep more people closer to home this summer, and it’s not hard to understand why the city is worried about the condition of its parks.
"We are very proud of our city’s many natural resources and we want to make residents aware of them," said city spokeswwoman Jessica Mayorga. "But we want to make sure people understand their responsibilities as members of the community."
Unauthorized motorized vehicles, such as scooters, zooming through the parks have been increasingly annoying and dangerous for visitors, officials said.
"It is mostly teenagers driving in high speed, which makes it even more dangerous," said Levine.
The youngsters come alone or in groups, and usually with no adult to supervise them, he said.
"We had close accidents, people being bumped, and park property hit or run over," said Bill Dixon, deputy director of the parks department.
Although the city hasn’t computed the cost of damages, Levine said one section of a cast iron fence on the Green, for example, costs about $2,500 to be replaced.
Graffiti is another costly annoyance that has been on the rise, Levine said, and its removal is consuming time, manpower and taxpayers’ money. When vandals hit a monument, costs go up because it requires delicate and careful work to restore it.
Littering is yet another challenge. "That is a big thing for us," said Levine. "A full third of our regular working day is devoted to picking up papers and taking them to the transfer stations, and emptying the bins throughout the parks."
Every piece of paper has to be picked up before the staff begins mowing the grass, which consumes valuable time that could be used to improve the parks in other ways, officials said.
All these problems usually increase as the weather gets warmer, but this year the gasoline prices have already made the issue twice as big as usual.
"Since Memorial Day, the amount of people visiting our parks has doubled compared to last year," said Dixon.
Lighthouse Point Park has 80 acres that have been the hardest hit, Dixon said, followed by East Shore, Edgewood and East Rock parks.
All have signs explaining the do’s and don’ts of park etiquette, and violators could be fined $75 for littering and improper parking, and $92 for allowing a dog to roam, for example.
While police regularly patrol the parks, enforcing regulations is not easy. Wrongdoers must be caught red-handed in order to be fined.
City officials hope that increasing awareness will lead to a decrease in problems.
"We just want our parks to be safe this summer, so that everyone can enjoy them," said Dixon.
Mariana Stebbins is a Register intern.

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