Residents join together for neighborhood park cleanup
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent July 19, 2014 8:26PM
Gary resident Darryl Brown throws a section of tree limb into his truck. Brown joined a dozen others Saturday in cleaning up a park at 8th Avenue and Mississippi Street. | Michael Gonzalez~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 21, 2014 7:00AM
GARY — Just the mention of years past at the little park tucked into a corner of an east side neighborhood got Jacqueline Scott, David Carroll and Scott Lowe laughing and reminiscing about picnics and dance parties, long gone neighbors and “good old days.”
“It was a place where everybody gathered, right here,” Lowe said, waving his arms. “It was real nice, with swings, a water fountain.”
“We had 4-H here and block clubs, and we even had arts and crafts,” Scott added.
The three joined a dozen others at the park at 8th Avenue and Mississippi Street, in a neighborhood commonly called “the valley.” They cut tall grass, cleared branches and debris, picked weeds and, later, ate grilled hot dogs and reminisced some more.
Flanked by a tall berm holding railroad tracks to the southeast, the park features a fenced-in basketball court and colorful play equipment.
The park, one of the smaller ones out of 56 city parks, remains an important part of the community, residents said, and, with city funding so low, a group of residents turned out Saturday to clean it up.
Some of them, like Markael Watkins, have formally adopted other parks through the city’s Adopt-A-Park program. They travel from one park to another, helping out, he said.
“The city said they don’t have enough money to do the parks, so we come out,” said Watkins, as he surveyed the park. “We have to at least give our kids a park. They don’t have anything else to do, nowhere else to go.
“And, everybody helps. If a politician comes out, I tell them, ‘Don’t come unless you come with a shovel or a rake.’ They don’t usually stick around.”
The city’s role in the cleanup was up for some debate. Clyde Scott, a marketing manager for UZ US, a St. John-based service company, drove a large company lawn mower around the park.
City workers have removed some old couches and debris, but there hasn’t been much other help, he said.
“We’ve asked for the support, but they say they don’t have any funds,” Scott said. “There’s no way in the world this park should look like this.”
Part of the park cleanup came from work Patty Sprague, of Crown Point, and area resident Monica Rozier have been doing. Sprague, a retired librarian, said she found the area while looking for a possible real estate investment and, one day, began cleaning up a property.
Soon, neighbors joined in, and working in the area became her full-time job, while Rozier looked at it as a way to teach the neighborhood kids lessons about community.
“It’s kind of like creating curb appeal,” Sprague said. “So, maybe if someone looks at a home here, they’ll feel a sense of community.”
“This makes me happy,” Rozier said. “I want to make sure the kids grow and learn, that ghettos are made, they don’t just grow around you.”
Darius Pickett, 18, pitched in, removing branches and brush from a play area.
“It’s what I do, yard work,” he said. “This helps make people communicate, brings them together.”