2017-09-07 / Front Page

Community Tackles Local Park Use Issues

Littering and Other Behaviors Targeted
By Brooke Constance White

A steady increase in complaints about litter and after-hours usage of the Edward Street Park this summer has compelled a group of community members to figure out how to address the growing issue.

Although scattered trash and teenagers using the park late at night have been issues in years past, they have become less manageable this summer and have now become a nuisance for neighbors, particularly the staff of the nearby Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Center, according to Center officials at a meeting on Aug. 30.

At the meeting, the center’s Assistant Executive Director Heather Strout, and Director of Education Sally Swistak met with the city’s Building and Grounds Supervisor, Scott Wheeler; City Councilor Lynn Ceglie; Community Police Officer Merrie Scott; and other neighbors to discuss the topic and look at potential solutions.

Newport owns the playground, basketball courts, chess tables, play area and benches on both sides of Edward Street, and plans to install a park for younger kids on the east side of the street, directly behind and abutting the MLK Center. The city recently received the approval on a $60,200 federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to install a “tot lot,” or a playground for kids age 5 and younger.

"This is only the city's second tot lot, so we felt we should nip the inappropriate behavior in the bud," said Wheeler, on the phone with Newport This Week.

The park on the west side of Edward Street is recommended for 5-12 year olds. Strout said there’s been a significant increase in litter in that area, and that one day in late August it looked as though someone had dumped out an entire trash can and spread its contents around.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in teens using the park,” Strout said. “We had a dinner Monday night and there were a bunch out there by the playground. We noticed that some of kids were using the garbage cans for skateboarding so one of our staff invited them all in. It smelled like they had been smoking pot.”

Throughout the summer, the center’s summer camp staff would enter the park in early morning with gloves and bags to pick up trash. A few times, according to Strout, they found items of particular concern, including used condoms and marijuana pipes along with lots of garbage. Swistak said there also appeared to be spots where small fires had been started in the grass.

Wheeler said his staff works hard to clean up all the parks regularly and that the problems are likely happening “after hours” when MLK staff are gone and the city’s grounds staff has finished working for the night. Throughout the entire city, he said, his staff has been collecting more used needles than ever before, which is something he suggested MLK staff and neighbors keep an eye out for. If any illegal paraphernalia is found at the park or illegal activities are taking place, Officer Scott directed concerned residents or witnesses to call the police immediately or take a photo and report it if it’s after the fact.

Although the park is supposed to close at 9 p.m., the sign that notifies visitors is faded and nearly unreadable. Wheeler said he will have the sign replaced and may suggest that more signs indicating park times be added.

“If people see teens in the park past 9 p.m., [neighbors] can legitimately call the police and hopefully the police will move them along,” he said. “Another thing to work on is making sure garbage cans are in spots where they will be used while also making sure our waste-management team can get to them easily.”

Officer Scott said she would consult others at the department to see if they can direct people who need to complete community service hours to the park to pick up garbage. And although the center’s security cameras don’t capture all the activity at the park, Strout said she might be able to move the cameras to see more and potentially give the police access to view the recorded footage.

Further, Wheeler suggested that perhaps one of the city’s partners could organize a recreational basketball league in the evenings at the park so an adult is present and teenagers have semi-structured programming to participate in.

“Many of these teens have been told not to hang out at different parks, and this neighborhood has been more accepting for a long time,” Wheeler said as he ended the meeting and thanked the participants. “We haven’t come up with a miracle pill but we’re all more aware of what’s going on. We’re making progress.”

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