100,000 volunteers clean over 1,000 public parks
02 October 2006
by Chuck Squatriglia
"There's a ton of them out here, as you can see," Richard Tilles said Saturday, yanking the insidious weeds by the handful from the lush grass. "You could spend your whole life out here pulling them."
Few people are willing to do that, but volunteers like Tilles were happy to spend a few hours Saturday pulling weeds, fixing trails, planting flowers and generally spit-shining Golden Gate National Recreation Area and other parks throughout the region.
They joined as many as 100,000 people across the country in rolling up their sleeves and cleaning 1,100 parks, from the smallest urban tot-lot to the Grand Canyon, during National Public Lands Day.
Organizers call the annual event the biggest one-day volunteer campaign to improve America's parks.
Volunteers were expected to help out in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and even Saipan, which perhaps only the people of Saipan and the National Park Service know is home to American Memorial Park.
"We get a lot of work accomplished," said Robb Hampton, national director of the event, which is organized by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation and is now in its 13th year. "It's an important day of action for all of our parks."
There are 2.263 billion acres of land in the United States, and roughly one-third of it belongs to the public. That's a lot of housekeeping, and there is no way the government can tend to it all without some help, said Brian O'Neill, superintendent of the GGNRA.
More than 13,000 people donated 380,000 hours of time to the GGNRA last year.
"Volunteers are an absolutely essential way of getting things done in our park, and in all parks," O'Neill said.
Quite a lot got done Saturday, from restoring the historic flowerbeds of Alcatraz Island to pulling down rusty barbed wire at Mount Diablo State Park to pulling weeds and planting flowers at Mission Playground in San Francisco.
"It's good exercise, it's fun, and it's helping the city," Tony Vaessen of San Francisco said after heaving what felt like his millionth shovelful of wood chips into a truck. He and his 11-year-old son, Campbell, live nearby and decided to help out after seeing everyone hard at work.
"It's rewarding, because you can see your results," he said as volunteers planted vinca minor, tibouchina and other plants. "It was kind of rundown and well-trodden. Now it looks great."
Across town, 30 people cleared trash and debris from Ocean Beach, where there is no end to the trash and debris needing to be cleared. Volunteers filled hundreds of trash bags there during Coastal Cleanup Day two weeks ago, but you wouldn't have known that Saturday morning.
"There were more than 50 bags of garbage, debris, nails and glass that we filled," said Neal Desai, Bay Area program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit parks advocacy and watchdog group. "I even found some needles. We'd been told to watch out for that."
No one involved in National Public Lands Day holds any illusions that rounding up 100,000 volunteers or so and sending them into the nation's parks for one day is going to keep those parks looking great the rest of the year.
But, they said, a good many of those volunteers might discover that they enjoy planting flowers, or fixing trails, or painting park benches, and chip in more often than once a year.
"This opens the door," Desai said. "It makes people see that they can make a difference."