Cleaning up our parks is a public effort
The joys of outdoor public spaces were rediscovered by many amidst the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic. As more people have turned to outdoor recreation since the spring of 2020 — whether it be by taking vigorous hikes along scenic trails or quietly contemplating nature while sitting on a park bench with a good book — the task of keeping these spaces clean and well-maintained also became more challenging.
Photographs of piles of junk furniture, bags of trash, scattered debris, vandalism, weeds and other examples of unsightly messes at parks and public spaces are frequently posted on community social media pages. Along with the photos come the barrage of disparaging complaints about the litter.
Just as every one of us benefits from enjoying outdoor time, however, every member of the public also can help ensure our municipal and state parks, playgrounds, recreation areas, beaches and forests remain pleasant places of respite for all. It may be tempting to gripe and throw up our collective hands in the face of repeated park vandalism or dumping, but the best way to keep public outdoor spaces pleasant is for all of us to pitch in and help clean up when problems occur.
In New London, for example, a small but dedicated group of residents serve on the Beautification Committee. About 20 members strong, the committee adopts as many public spots as it can handle and regularly weeds, plants, waters and removes trash from these areas. Their efforts enhance well-traveled spots such as the front of City Hall, the gardens around the Gov. John Winthrop and Eugene O’Neill statues and entryways at Greens Harbor and Ocean Beach.
The city’s Williams Park is also a place where determination and dedication by volunteers and neighbors has ensured the urban space remains attractive. Joseph Colaluca and other neighbors are persistent in their efforts to keep the park clean despite the odds and repeated setbacks. Last summer, in the face of numerous instances of trash dumping and public urination and defecation there, a concerted effort by volunteers transformed the overgrown, weedy mess around the park to a manicured, leafy oasis. Veterans memorials there were cleaned up, flowers and greenery planted and the badly overgrown bushes encircling a statue of Connecticut hero Nathan Hale neatly pruned and shaped. Heading into another season, the park remains generally clean and inviting.
Volunteers and neighbors can’t go it alone, however. For every garden the New London Beautification Committee plants and tends, for example, there are several more public spots that would benefit from some cleanup and planting. For every day volunteers help keep spots such as Williams Park clean, illegal trash dumping or vandalism may occur at sites such as Bates Woods.
Municipal officials must also use their authority to discourage trash and dumping. They could, for example, find ways to make it easier and less costly for residents to properly dispose of bulky waste such as broken furniture and old mattresses. They also can step up efforts to encourage local businesses or groups of neighbors to be stewards for specific public places through adopt-a-road or adopt-a-park programs. And they could sponsor special clean-up days and enlist the help of Scout troops and athletic teams to pitch in to help ensure cleaner and healthier outdoor public spaces.
Just as parks and other public recreation spaces are available for all to enjoy, they also should be spots we all take responsibility for. It’s as easy to pick up and properly dispose of trash as it is to complain about its existence.
With the popularity of outdoor recreation continuing to increase, we all must share responsibility in ensuring public parks remain clean, attractive and enjoyable for future generations.