by Terrance Kelly
Some not-so-pretty plants have been growing in Dearborn Park. Add to that some carelessly discarded rubbish and the place had become an unsightly mess. However, community groups Nov. 7 competed to clean up the area at the second annual Park Renewal Day.
Volunteers from neighborhood organizations and schools removed invasive plants and species such as privet, ivy and wisteria from Dearborn Park’s landscape as they competed for cash prizes of $200 to $500. The DeKalb County Parks and Recreation Department, the city of Decatur, and Renewal Design Build hosted the cleanup.
“Until last year, the park was littered with whatever people dumped illegally,” said Dan Magee, director City of Decatur Active Living. “It took three dumpsters to clean up. There were car axels, refrigerators, tires and all kinds of trash.”
Today, the park not only has fewer invasive plants it also has picnic and play areas, a cleared hiking trail and a prominently posted “No Dumping” sign.
“Not many people know about our park or our community,” said Rebecca Sullivan, beautification chair of the Midway Woods Neighborhood Association. “People come here to run, to walk their dogs, and it’s a good short hike on a sunny day.”
Jeremy Rhett, a Candler Point homeowner, is among the few initial organizers of the park’s cleanup. “Several years ago DeKalb County acquired some greenspace here, but nothing was being done with it,” he said. “You couldn’t even walk through the area. I thought it would be nice to have a trail here, and I noticed a lot of trees being killed by ivy growing from their base to their canopy. I knew the only way to really do something was to have trail space here, so I walked through and marked the area to have a trail.”
With the help of city and county officials, a trail was plowed, wood chips were donated by a tree removal company, and volunteers came to help.
Peter Michelson, CEO of Renewal Design Build, decided giving the cleanup a competitive edge would get better results. His company donated the $2,000 for prize money and bought T-shirts for participants.
“This had to be a public and private collaboration,” said Dave Butler, a professional geologist and the greenspace environment manager of DeKalb Parks Bond & Greenspace Office. “After clearing the area for work, there was still a challenge because of damage by invasive plants and species have on parks and the ecosystem.”
“The best volunteers are educated volunteers,” said Charlie Monroe, DeKalb County natural resource manager. “We trained teams of volunteers to remove invasive plants, while not harming the park’s native plants or the park’s wildlife. This was a great opportunity for us to empower communities to take ownership in their park.”
The lessons from Park Renewal Day were not lost on a group of students from Decatur High School and youth from Decatur Housing Authority Teens-N-Action.
“This is a great service program to get kids to out into the community,” said Decatur High School teacher Chris Billingsley. “I’ve been teaching for 30 years, and I’ve seen some of my average students in the classroom become the best workers in the community.”
There are immeasurable benefits for young people doing community service, such as this, said Bobby Frazier, family youth advisor for Decatur Housing Authority Teens-n-Action. “First, they were eager to help because the prize money will help fund their college tour next spring,” he said. “Then, the experience teaches them that anything is possible when you work hard. When we got here, we didn’t see the end result we have now.”
Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd assisted with judging the cleanup competition and was pleased to see the efforts of public and private sectors. “It’s great to see what the community’s efforts have brought to Dearborn Park,” he said. “If you haven’t walked through, do so.”