Help Renovate Your Local Park
It used to be that parks were the heart of a neighborhood, refreshing spaces for neighborly chats, spring picnics, and fall fairs. But in many communities, municipal budget crunches have sapped resources for programs and upkeep. The resulting neglect has left many of the nation's parks empty or, worse, dangerous.
Happily, you can help reverse the slide. Across the country, volunteers by the thousands are picking up where the public money left off. And they're finding the satisfaction is not just in creating a pretty space: They also gain a powerful sense of bonding and achievement.
Phil Cuthbertson, who directs Atlanta's Grant Park Conservancy, helps lead a group of volunteers who have planted more than 3,000 trees and shrubs and raised $150,000 to install a new playground. "We have taken responsibility for ourselves," Cuthbertson says. "If it's going to get done, someone has to do it."
Whether it's hauling mulch or repairing basketball nets, the work allows for intangible rewards. The act of "creating a space that is more beautiful after you spent time there than before you came is lasting," says Kathy Spangler, director of national partnerships for the National Recreation and Park Association. "People crave and want to see green and to be in it," adds Laura Lawson, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.
Jeff Stoiber of Washington, D.C., has focused his attention on Lafayette Park, just steps from his home. Overgrown and unsightly, the park had fallen victim to financial shortfalls: The budget for the District's Department of Parks and Recreation, adjusted for inflation, is about the same today as it was in 1990, while the number of full-time employees has fallen from about 1,750 to fewer than 900. Concerned about the future of the park, residents joined together in 1999 to restore and maintain the site. Today, the improved park is so popular that stroller traffic jams are commonplace.
"I get tremendous satisfaction [from this work]," Stoiber says. "I get respect for it, and the community enjoys it. It does improve the quality of my life."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.