[I hate Austin Powers, for the record. But Mr Bigglesworth is too good to pass up]
Incidentally, I have written to Geoff Croft. Twice. He is the mover and shaker behind the NYC Parks Advocates group, the man who says (as quoted here) that volunteers make The Problem worse by doing the jobs that the city should be doing ( I agree! But doing nothing, or calling 311, as he suggests, to get complaints on record, is not the alternative). No response at all to my two emails asking for advice or feedback.
On July 19th six of us assembled, and scored some interesting finds.
At first we found them with no gloves. David, our usual Natural Resources minder, is busy with his youth crew in the summer, and Martin, our temporary minder had not been briefed about gloves. He was good enough to go and fetch some when we squealed. Martin is the usual park animal wrangler and had a lot of funny stories about snapping turtles and pythons. He wore black nail polish.
Just to explain about gloves lest you think us alarmist and overly germ-phobic. If you are right handed, the trash bag goes in your left. The right hand works the grabbers. You pick up with the right and deposit into the bag. Sometimes what is in the grabber can brush against the left hand. Used condoms, tissue paper or wet wipes with human excrement. Bottles with nameless fluid. So the gloves are not a joke.
Rainbow condoms dominated the day, but a pink dildo and some HIV medication stood out. I now look at litter with a connoisseur's eye. There was a smell of dead animal in the central part of the woods. Heat and humidity were high.
The men I greeted as I worked my way around the paths were unfailingly pleasant and polite once my, Good morning, was uttered. I don't say anything more to them. Like, WHY DON'T YOU CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELVES BECAUSE THIS IS REALLY HORRIBLE WORK????
If they start conversation, fine, but I don't.
Mostly they sit along the paths, alone or in pairs, waiting, walking, sometimes following. I had one close call, with someone buttoning up his pants as I walked by.
I think of that woman I saw last fall, with two small children, gathering trash from under the goutweed, in which the children were sitting. I am now as horrified by this as I was inspired then.
I came across a police van and had to squeeze past. The cop inside was asleep. I hoped I would not wake him as I passed - I was inches from his window and he would have jumped out of his skin.
Next litter mob August 2nd. Yes, we need you!
Two quotes from two volunteers:
L - I'm glad that I could help out in the park. It was a great experience even though we did not start with gloves. I apologize that I left early because I had to return the metro card back to my father. Unfortunately, I will not be able to fully join this group because transportation is inconvenient for me. However, I wish your group to succeed, and I hope one day, the forest will be clean.
Fred - I was glad to help. Just so surprised at such a small turnout. I guess that's why it was so easy to get separated from everyone and hardly see anyone after about a half-hour. I wound up with two bags full, and could have bagged much more. Just to point out, There were many more bagsful to be collected along the tree-line overlooking monument hill. Let me know when the next 'MOB' gathers.
Litter Mob results:
8 bags of trash
Many mosquito bites
Wildflowers and plants spotted:
Impatiens capenis - jewelweed Rubus occidentalis - black raspberries Sambucus canadensis - elderberries, green
The woods in Prospect Park may be the haunt of the men who meet there for social purposes and who leave their drinks, chip packets, gum wrappers, condoms, wet wipes and lube tubes behind, but there are others, too. The worst of the litter is off to the sides of his path, but I have picked up plenty of used condoms here, too.
Fall came early in Vincent's vision of our May 25th Litter Mob (Litter Mob 2), when the air already hung heavily with premature humidity and trees dripped green. Roll on, fall.
Where are they now? Many of our volunteers are one-time only visitors. Picking up used condoms and soiled paper for several hours, lugging heavy bags of bottles and repeatedly exercising the jaws of the litter grabber add up to cynicism, some anger, a sore wrist and a callus on the thumb. And stuff on your shoes.
Olga, flame-haired on the left (her hair was not doctored for this picture), has been a stalwart. Frank, beside her in blue, has missed just a couple of mobs. He insisted on going on vacation. Vincent, the photographer , has succumbed to 9 - 5 employment. I am there every time as I cannot very well quit, having started the damn thing.
We have since acquired new veterans, met more one-time only migrants (whose help is hugely appreciated, don't misunderstand me), and collected many, many many...
City Birder Rob Jett drew my attention to the post below from A Walk in the Park, and wrote to me about our Litter Mob in the Midwood: "I think what you do is really good, to a point. My opinion of the current situation with the department of parks is best summed up in the following piece from the blog A Walk in the Park."
A park watchdog says that volunteers who clean up their local green-spaces for free — like those with the new Cadman Park Conservancy — are giving the city a reason to slash even more funding from its already cash-strapped parks, according to the Brooklyn Paper.
Geoffrey Croft, who founded the New York City Park Advocates in part to ensure the city’s parks get their fair share of budget dollars, says it’s okay for residents to help keep parks clean, but they shouldn’t go to far.
“What these groups don’t realize is that they become a part of the problem,” said Geoffrey Croft, founder of NYC Park Advocates. “People have given up on getting the city to do its job.”
Croft said that public-private partnerships encourage the city to let citizens pay park maintenance instead of using tax dollars — a dangerous trend that is increasing the gap between the parks that have and those that have no while sending the Parks Department’s budget spiralling downward.
In fact, the city’s 2012 budget for Parks is $233 million, down from $238 million in 2011 and $258 million in 2010, leaving the caretakers of parkland with continually dwindling resources.
“I don’t think anyone has problems with people planting flowers and doing minor stuff, but when you get into taking over the role of a city agency, the disparity is a huge one,” Croft said.
The Cadman Park Conservancy formed earlier this year to fill in where the city can’t keep up. A band of locals on a barebones budget are planting flowers and fund-raising for drastic landscape improvements.
Compare this to entities like Central Park Conservancy, which privately funds most of the Manhattan oasis’s $37.4-million budget, or even Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is required by state mandate to be self-sustaining.
The corporation is pushing — against the community — to fund the 1.7-mile waterfront park by building luxury condos within the park’s footprint.
And that, says Croft, doesn’t bode well for city parks.
“Some groups raise money to plant flowers and some manage multimillion-dollar operations of parks,” Croft said. “But the big story is that the city refuses to fund its parks, so they’re forcing individuals to do it.
Well, I share this opinion 100%. So yes, Mr. Croft, we realize we are part of the problem. We are just too disgusted with the state of things to stand back and watch.
Am I happy to be volunteering my time and the time of others to de-litter the woods of Prospect Park? No! I'm mad as hell. But I do not see doing nothing as a solution.
In the meantime I have received several emails from Eugene Patron, press director of the Prospect Park Alliance, taking issue with my previous post. I do not have his permission to reproduce his email here, and as a courtesy, shall not; but I look forward to airing more sides of the issue if and when other parties consent to being quoted.
The Prospect Park Woodland Youth Crew helped us out on Tuesday, giving us a nice boost. Otherwise we were an all-girl crew - Inge, Olga and me, and a Natural Resources staff member.
The good: When we started this all, on May 10th, the worst area was around the feet of two soaring tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipfera). We literally raked condoms up. I don't think anyone had been there to clean in ...years? Ever? Brush from exotic or invasive bushes was then cut by the Natural Resources crew to make access to the tree trunks - the preferred spots for sexual hookups - difficult. The forest floor has been trampled here into a concrete-like surface. No undergrowth of perennials could possibly take root or survive, and rainwater cannot permeate easily to reach the roots of these tree giants.
Last Tuesday there was very little new litter in this area, save for around an old log whose habits die hard, it seems. So, that was good.
Bad: The slope that leads up the ridge to Ricks' Place was still pretty foul, and one has to take great care not to step in anything horrible. Condoms are one thing, human excrement another. There are toilets a ten minute walk away. They may be locked at night, though. Although how the hell anyone sees at night is another question - there is a lot of traffic in the day, and I'm curious about whether it really is that much heavier after dark; these slopes are very steep, there are brambles and thorny plants and poison ivy. Head lamps?
These are the things upon which one ponders, sack in hand, a callus developing on the thumb where we repeatedly click open the metal jaws of the tireless grabber.
I noticed a few weeks ago that the regular email that is sent by the Prospect Park Alliance to all volunteers and interested parties, listing upcoming volunteer opportunities, made no mention of our Tuesday Litter Mobs in the Midwood. That made me grumpy. I queried the ommission, and it was listed in the next mailing.
What was not made clear in that mailing was the nature of the litter we pick up. We pick up hundreds of C-ondoms. Every time. I think it is only fair to make that clear in an undramatic way. But that part is left to me. Consequently, I received responses from a dozen people demanding information about our group. I felt duty-bound to inform them about the condoms, the soiled paper.
As a result, one person showed up.
Of course she was the best one, but that is not the point. So I asked the Alliance's volunteer coordinator whether she could perhaps describe the litter next time as being 'of an adult nature'. I was promptly referred to the press office.
Are our heads still so deep in the sand we can't say the c-word? Has everyone lost their collective backbone?
I am not amused. I am expected to spend my own time, on my own dime, fielding this correspondence, picking up the damn trash, hammering in rebar for fences and the least the Alliance could do is state calmly the nature of the litter in the Midwood, saving time all round.
The press office.
'Marmie, Marmie, I saw a bear!
Tell the press office, son. They'll take care of it,
But Marmie eekeaaarchompchomp gulp...lipsmack
This is how the mailing describes the woods (the same woods that saw no attention w h a t s o e v e r until this spring).
"As part of our effort [really?]to focus attention on caring for the woodlands in
the park, this new volunteer group meets twice a month to clean up the
Midwood, the oldest remaining forest in Brooklyn and home to the tallest
trees in Prospect Park. The Midwood is one of the largest stands of intact
forest habitat in the park: a place of mossy logs and towering trees, some
of which may be older than the park, and could even have stood here during
the opening salvos of the Revolutionary War. Volunteers pick up [insert x-rated] trash,
rehabilitate informal paths and add native plants to the area."
Sounds idyllic - and frankly, this is the way we would like it to be. I can see Bambi peeping from the leaves. But spend 3 hours there with us and see how it is.
The woods are beautiful, there is moss. But...
Isn't it the first step towards recovery admitting that there is a problem?
Despite this selective and lovely view, it looked as though a bomb had gone off on the lawns of the park - a 4th of July garbage bag bomb whose eruption left piles pf bagged and unbagged trash on most green surfaces.
The woods were remarkably unaffected, with less litter than before. More people in the park may mean less traffic in the cruising area. Not sure. Maybe the regular clean ups are working. Maybe people are more conscious of where they are dropping what. Which is not to say that there were not some picturesque surprises.
I received no response, ever, from the Parks Department. Emily Lloyd, the president of the Prospect Park Alliance contacted me in response to this letter to suggest volunteering to clean up the trash.
Date: Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 3:31 PM
Subject: Litter in Prospect Park
Dear Commissioner Jeffrey My name is Marie Viljoen and I am a Brooklyn resident, writer, blogger, photographer and gardener. I visit Prospect Park regularly. Starting last year I became very despondent about the litter in the park. I see the park as an asset not only to New York City, but to the country. It is a beautiful and iconic landscape. To see it fall into apparent neglect is deeply disturbing. There is litter in many areas, and especially after big events. The part that concerns me most, however, as it is perennial, and seems ignored and unchallenged, is in the Northeast, in the woods around the Vale of Cashmere and Rick's Place. The litter here is mostly the detritus of sexual activity: condoms, wrappers, lubricant, wet wipes, tissue paper, as well as the usual bottles, cups and plastic bags. This is a special part of the park. The Prospect Park Alliance describes it on their website as "the only forest in Brooklyn." That is why I love it, personally. Yet it is largely avoided by the most members of the public. There are very few trash cans here. The forest floor is littered with trash.I wrote about this problem recentlyon my blog and consequently received a lot of traffic from local blogsGothamistandCurbed, who picked up on the sexual connotations of the litter, but I would like to do more than make a noise. I would like to fix the litter problem. To that end I have started contacting local bloggers and members of the community directly viaan open letterto help come up with practical ideas to combat the litter as well as to start a publicity campaign to raise awareness of the issue. No practicable solutions can be reached without the support, feedback and involvement of you and the Parks Department. I understand that the litter problem is not new, is not easy, and that it must be one of the most onerous aspects of running a public park. But it exists and it has reached unacceptable levels. Eugene Patron, the press director of the Prospect Park Alliance, emailed me yesterday in response to my blog post and explained that snow had delayed clean up, and that once volunteers are back in April, things will improve. I would be more cheered by this news if I had not seenthe woods last Novemberin the same state. I was happy to see that you feel the same way about litter in the park (in an interview with theNew York Daily Newslast October). I hope that we might meet to discuss what policies are currently in place, what the constraints are (budget, no doubt), and what might be done to solve a dirty and difficult problem. Yours sincerely, Marie Viljoen