Monday, August 29, 2011

8-30-11: Call up

The Litter Mob will be lending itself to a general, post Irene clean up tomorrow. We meet at the usual spot at 9am, corner of Center Drive and East Drive. While we would like to be in the woods, they have not yet been thoroughly vetted for weakened or dangerous tree limbs. Doesn't mean I won't sneak in later, though...

Please join us!

And yes, I did find these mushrooms in the park, and yes, they were delicious.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Litter Mob 8 - 3 months in

I cancelled our Tuesday Mob, it was pouring out, and so only two of us assembled the following day, in humid sunshine, to go on our treasure hunt. Still, it was comforting to have as my companion author Elizabeth Royte, and to know that she who writes about matters ecological  and about trash, also picks it up. She gave me a copy of a wonderful book she reviewed, Weeds, by Richard Mabey. I am a big fan of actual pages.

Fortified, into the woods I marched. With Elizabeth. And our kind Natural Resources keeper, David, who is assigned to us from other duties for the duration, but not before being flashed by a man on a log in plain sight, exposing himself. Clearly he was overly optimistic and exercised poor judgement: David was carrying a saw at the time...

We gathered litter for an hour-and-a-half and spent the rest of the time pulling and hacking out some invasive porcelain berry, which made a nice change.

But am I growing despondent? In a small, three-letter word, yes.

Not so much because of what we are or are not achieving in a superficial sense - the woods are cleaner, in the worst areas, though new ones keep popping up - but because of a tiny turn out (so many people moan and complain about the litter and who shows up?), and the apparent lack of long term strategies or solutions.

Our core band of volunteers is stellar, and circumstances prevented two of them from being there, while others have just gone dark.

Today I looked at the page about the woodlands on the Prospect Park website and read about the problems  listed. Soil compaction is there, but the reason for it is artfully sidestepped. 8 million visitors to the park per annum are cited, but trust me when I say that those visitors are not in these particular woods.

Litter is not mentioned at all, nor, of course, its precise nature and sole source: Condoms and Cruising.

There is only the daily traffic of solitary men, and a few birders, on the informal paths. The occasional jogger, a troop of small children walking through, stay on the proper paths, dodging the odd, slippery condom. I spoke to a birder recently who rails against the sex litter. But who feels that our de-littering enables the broken system that understaffs and underfunds the park to remain broken.

While I agree that an over reliance upon volunteers, citywide, to care for our parks, is in itself an ill, a kind of symptomatic rot, I also believe that as volunteers we can do more than perform the city's work for free: while we are working and when we go home, we can shine a light on a dark place, and expose it for what it is. It is hard to ignore something that everyone can suddenly see.

Staffwise, I am amazed at how few people are expected to do so much. It's not possible. The woodland needs a keeper. One keeper. Even then, s/he would have their work cut out for them. The daily presence of a person who cares and is paid to care is an essential part of the solution. Once we are out of the woods, it all goes back to normal.

The sex log

This particular cruising log is on a steep slope. The soil on the incline which is riddled with paths, is hard and compact and after the torrential rains a lot had been washed away, exposing the tiny white bulbils of a summer-dormant plant (star of Bethlehem?). Around the log is a copious amount of mixed litter and at its foot, for the second time in a  row, snail trails of fresh semen. Don't ask me how I know. I know.

Yeah, I know. How in the world do I imagine I am going to attract volunteers with prose like this? I still have my alcohol wipes, carried on my person and in the truck a nice bottle of hand sanitizer waits for us. The men in the woods use wipes, too, and then drop them on the ground. One very well dressed man walked into the woods, past me, carrying a small green, nylon bag. I was very tempted to ask him, in a genuinely friendly fashion, if I could see inside, see the contents before they are used. I only ever see them after. And what a handy little bag, for carrying everything out again!

These are our woods. Everybody's woods. Yet they are strewn with drug baggies, condoms, wrappers, lube packets, cigarette and cigar and snack wrappers, water, juice and hard liquor bottles, and the more esoteric and unmentionable paraphernalia of intimate relations between human beings who do not give a damn about their surroundings and who are not informed that their trampling is killing trees. In short, no one speaks to them.

I saw the flasher later, and recognized him from previous mobs.  He didn't flash me, of course. I was not only the wrong sex, but carrying a very big camera. He hobbled off in the opposite direction. I unslung my camera and shot a picture.

Of some mushrooms.

Litter Mob results:

4 bags trash

Seasonal wildflowers spotted:

Oenothera biennis - evening primrose
Solidago sp. - golden rod
Impatiens capensis - jewelweed

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Litter Mob call up - 16 August

The next mob is on Tuesday, August 16th, at 9am. Please come and help.

Here are directions. Please RSVP.

Instant no smoking signs have appeared out on the lawns. I see few no littering signs, and none in the woods. And I have never picked up or noticed an actual cigarette butt, which is curious. Not even a cigar butt, but plenty of wrappers, Pink Berry being the favourite, followed by empty packs of Newport Lights.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Litter Mob 7, August 2nd

Our little band met on Tuesday at 9am. And it is still a very little band. Five plus our Natural Resources staff members and Natalie O'Neil, a reporter from The Brooklyn Paper. She took some pictures, too, and I live in dread of being the condom cover girl. I hope Gersh goes easy on his angle...

The woods. There has been some progress, especially in the area where we first used rakes to sweep condoms and litter into heaps at the base of ancient tulip trees, in the early days of May, when we formed. This is thanks in large part to the efforts of the Natural Resources crew (employees of the Prospect Park Alliance) who have steadily added brush to the informal maze of paths that have destroyed the woodland floor, here.

I love the brush (which is the side product of alien vegetation removal - an ongoing challenge in the woods, and overshadowed here by the  litter). The criss-crossing sticks and branches keep people out, except where they have doggedly pushed them aside to reach a favourite horizontal log where we found as much litter as usual, nice and fresh.

The brush is also good for critters and habitat. I must emphasize that these paths and meeting areas are not on public paths in the forest. It's like offroad vehicles bulldozing into protected habitat and has the same effect.  The prevalence of this haphazard and well-worn path system means that the woodland here cannot be what it should be - multi-storied and layered. It is pretty much cut off at the knees with no ground cover or perennial growth possible in the pummeled, flattened earth.

Above, a major entrance to this chief maze was also fenced off in our absence, with a  heap of old logs for extra effect in front of it. Doubtless, new accessways will be forged, but it is this type of steady restoration that will make a difference. I know the fence is very ugly, but it serves an important, and in the long run, temporary, purpose. Weirdly, I see a parallel to the slow process of reclaiming and restoring the forest to rehabilitation from drug addiction. It is painful and unsightly, prone to relapse, and the success of it depends on concerted will power and a great deal of unflagging support. And of course, one needs to admit that there is a problem.

Clethra alnifolia, native the Eastern United States. Fargrant flowers, likes slightly acidic, moist soil.

I was interested to note that the woods do not fall under the care of one person, as they might in Central Park, where that park is divvied up into zones in the care of a zone gardener, or de facto curator. I imagine in my innocence that if each part of Prospect Park had its own keeper, more focused attention could be paid to that area, instead of spreading the available resources very thinly over the entire area. It is focus that achieves the desired end.

Thanks to Frank, Inge, Paulette and Fred, John, Martin, Jessica and David...

Next litter mob: August 16th, 9am

[Thanks to Brownstoner for the support!]

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coals and craziness

The public is allowed to grill, braai, barbecue in Prospect Park. A common and oft-voiced problem for park stewards is that the hot coals are later tipped onto the ground when people pack up and leave. This kills tree roots.

But for two weeks (picture above is two weeks ago) running I have seen this specially designated coal bin overflowing. This is on a Tuesday, presumably after a weekend of grilling.

Simple question. Why are they not emptied regularly? Perhaps even on a Monday. And why is there not another one, beside this one, which is obviously well-used for what it was designed? And as for not throwing your trash away in them, perhaps a real trash can would be helpful.

More on trash soon. I am amazed at learning yesterday that there is no paid crew of employees that regularly sweeps the park for litter, on foot, with grabbers and bags. Amazed. Like...amazed.

I have been spoiled by the privately funded Pier One part of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is highly trafficked but spotless. Employees of the John Doe Fund patrol that park constantly.

No one is actually employed to pick up trash in Prospect Park (except volunteers...)? This is nuts.

[12.39pm - Update: the Press Director of the Prospect Park Alliance has contacted me to tell me that yes, there are paid employees who pick up trash. More as I have the information. See below]

The only trash collection is vehicular, and targets actual trash bins, and I will confirm how often that happens.

A designated team of employees to housekeep the park is essential. Why not be part of work creation program? And don't tell me there is no money. Borrow some from the multi million dollar ice rink being constructed.

Trash collection is one of the most basics necessities of maintaining a public space.

I am stunned. Really.

Here is Eugene Patron (Press Director of the Prospect Park Alliance)'s response to this post:  Underlining is mine.

"Every day maintenance crews first begin cleaning up around playgrounds, ball fields, picnic areas and restrooms (we target those areas first since they are the most heavily used).   They are on foot and  pick up and then bag trash.  Then crews move to other areas of the Park.   The # of people varies by season depending on the number of seasonal/part-time workers made available to the Park (usually more in summer, less in winter). BUT there are always people year-round whose job is it is to clean the park daily (once they are done cleaning, they may do other maintenance tasks).  

The garbage bagged is picked up by packer [truck] every day.   And packers empty trash cans around the park every day.  You note that you have seen park employees doing other things right next to overflowing trash cans.  That is likely because until an empty packer can come by, there’s not much staff can do with the trash (this also speaks to the popular suggestion that we just  “get more cans.”  The problem is servicing the cans.  You need trucks, and driver’s with the right license - and union – and then you need to be able to take the trucks somewhere; sometimes the Brooklyn dump is closed and the trucks can’t dump or have to drive to Queens).

Re: the Alliance crew [an ad hoc paid crew], they come out every Sunday, and then back again Monday mornings.  This is being done to try and deal with the litter from busy summer weekends.  They also come out sometimes on other days to attend to areas needing extra attention (like today: we brought in extra workers  to cleanup a lot of litter at the Lake left by a party of inebriated people that NYPD had to deal with).  The # also varies; more for Sunday’s of big holiday weekends; less on a weekday cleanup like today.

Re: “borrowing $s” from the ice rink to use for cleaning; unfortunately it is apples and oranges.  Money that government, philanthropies and corporate donors make available specifically for “capital” projects cannot be used for anything else.  That’s not up to us.  Most non-profits struggle with the problem that $s for operating costs are not as plentiful as $s for new facilities (hence why you see donor names on museum walls and not on the uniforms of museum guards).   That’s why $s raised from members and fundraising parties are so important because they are unrestricted funds; we can use the $s as needed."


1. This sounds effective. Then why is there so much litter?

2. Note to self, start getting more sides of the story from more parties involved. This is an excellent kick in the pants.

3. Now that I am in possession of more facts, is one of the root problems the fact that there is no permanent core team of park housekeepers or sanitation workers who do nothing else but patrol for and collect litter?

As I understand it now, all employees are expected to pick up trash, on top of their other duties, such as park ecology, restoration, horticulture, lawn care, tree care, aquatic maintenance, and on and on. It is spread too thinly. You do a little of everything.

Possibly if employees are assigned specific sections of the park such as the zone gardeners are in Central Park, it would be easier to maintain, monitor and actively curate specific parts of Prospect Park.  Take litter off the plate of these curators...

Back to the woodland, for instance - it is not just bunch of pretty trees and shrubs and plants. Many of them are invasive and need to be removed. The trampling off-path caused by cruising has made it impossible for native perennials and groundcovers to thrive or even to exist in many areas. They have been destroyed. Soil has been compacted to the point of concrete. Time and attention are needed to restore these areas.

Complicated. But not insurmountable.