How neighbors cleaned up Mill Race Park

In 2017, Mitch and Mia bought their first house, on Trade Street in SESNA’s Capital Park district. Mill Race Park soon became a favorite stop on the daily dog walk. The park was in a state of neglect – so they decided to turn it back into the family-friendly place it is today. SESNA’s Arnaud Verstuyf asked them about it.

Before we tell you what Arnaud learned, we’re going to add a plug for our upcoming SESNA litter pick-up event on April 20, 2019! That’s the Saturday before Earth Day. We’ll have free supplies at three locations around the neighborhood for you to use, and new friends for you to meet. Find out more HERE!

Picture of Mill Race Park
Mill Race Park, a beautiful spot for a picnic! Along Ferry Street at 20th.

What inspired you to clean up this little park?

When moving into our house we were eager to get to know our new neighborhood. Curiosity took us over. But Mill Race Park, being only a block away, was especially attractive…that is, it had great potential. The park was overgrown with weeds and blackberries, the bushes had grown out of their beddings, the concrete floor and picnic tables were covered in moss and all the mulch had disintegrated. The neglected area attracted graffiti and litter, with fast-food and other trash regularly strewn around.

For a couple years I (Mitch) was employed as a park worker. So I knew what this little area could be if taken care of. I’d helped with similar community projects in the past, so it was a small step to organize the project. I set realistic goals, picked dates, called friends, called the city and we went to work.

How did you get the city involved?

The City of Salem is always looking to empower citizens to take responsibility for their own neighborhood. The city tends to match people’s level of interest. The poor state of Mill Race Park reflected that none of the neighbors had shown much interest in a long time.

When I contacted Tibby Larson, the volunteer coordinator of the Public Works Department, she helped setup a cooperative effort where the city committed to providing professional people, tools and materials. It was very motivating to receive such support.

How was the community involved?

The city deployed three of their landscapers. I asked friends and neighbors to help, and everybody showed up. We were never starved for hands during the two days it took us to do the cleanup.

What did the transformation involve?

Tamed shrubs!

We started by picking up trash, then removed the blackberry vines from the public side of the fence. Then we weeded. Once the lawn was uncovered, it got mowed. Both bushes and trees received a substantial trim, bringing them back into shape. The exposed dirt was covered in mulch provided by the city. Finally we power-washed all concrete surfaces, including the sidewalks and picnic tables. That got rid of the graffiti, too.

Since then, the city has replaced the sun-damaged information board about the Mill Race per our request. They also installed, on their own initiative, a security camera and more effective lighting.

How was the response from the community?

People definitely noticed, even stopping to ask questions or calling out supportive remarks while walking by during the cleanup. Today, when I walk my dogs, people still wave and, when the topic comes up, I can’t but joke they should come over and lend a helping hand next time we tackle the park.

It is great how the park is used more now: People play chess, families have picnics, children and dogs play there.

What is next?

I am now the City’s official Mill Race Park Partner. When walking our neighborhood I often take a trash bucket with me to pick up any stray litter. But the park itself will require another concerted effort once the Oregon spring entices the plants into explosive growth.

Long-term improvements to Mill Race Park would include fixing or replacing the old trash bin and trimming the lower branches from the trees. A good trim would allow the newly installed light to more effectively light up the area, further enhancing the family-friendly feel of the space.

What advice do you have for neighbors wanting to organize a clean-up?

Call or email Tibby Larson, the city’s Parks Volunteer Coordinator. She encourages direct volunteer participation and will liaison on your behalf with the city departments. Bring a small list of realistic goals to the table. Consider having the cleanup take place on weekdays, when most of the city employees are working and available to help.

In general it is easy to do, brings people together and makes a neighborhood safer. All good reasons.

Arnaud also spoke to Tibby Larson. He asked her how neighbors can get involved.

Tibby says, “Oh my, the volunteer involvement is very rich in Salem Parks. We host hundreds of service groups, classrooms, church groups, and staff work groups performing service in Salem Parks! Tasks from re-surfacing trails, painting picnic tables, removing English ivy & blackberries, planting pollinator gardens, planting wetlands, and more.”

The city also supports:

  • Many volunteer events, such as Arbor Day, Earth Day, Make a Difference Day
  • Many groups of historic preservation & gardening; Mission Street Parks Conservancy, Deepwood Gardeners, Lord & Schryver Conservancy
  • Residents who keep the “Mutt Mitt” dispensers in their local parks filled
  • The Friends of Pioneer Cemetery, who take care of and preserve the historic cemetery
  • The Salem Area Trail Alliance, who develops and maintains area hiking and biking trails
  • The Minto-Brown Island Park & Bush Park Volunteer Patrol
  • Volunteers wishing to adopt a rose bed and care for it throughout the spring, summer and fall
  • Volunteers keeping the right-of-way along Kuebler Boulevard free of invasive Scotch broom
  • Scouts who want to do an Eagle Scout project in Salem Parks

There are many more.

How would volunteers, businesses, and others get involved or get support for a project?

First step is to contact me. Then we’ll work with Park Supervisors, Parks Managers and, if need be, Parks Planners to determine the feasibility of the proposed project! The City’s webpage for Parks volunteering is here: Volunteer opportunities in Salem’s parks

See how easy it is to get involved and make a difference in your neighborhood? Surely you’re excited to get started! Why not join our upcoming neighborhood litter pick-up event on April 20, 2019? It’s a short time commitment, and a great opportunity to meet some new friends, get fresh air, and show a little Earth Day love. Find out more HERE!

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