Overgrown with weeds and littered with crumpled Doritos bags, the small, vacant lot in Brooklyn Park became a well-known bottle breeding ground.
Every time William "Bill" Bell walked by the trash-strewn lot at 2nd Avenue and Marshall Street, he used to pick up a few broken bottles. But by the time he returned, the land seemed to have spawned even more.
Fed up with the eyesore in the heart of the community, Bell and a dozen neighbors met last spring and decided to clean up the lot.
They knocked on doors, hounded state officials for help, and applied for a $500 grant through the county's beautification program. By early May, the community group received permission from the county, which owns the lot, to kill the ragweed and clear the way for a park.
"When we first went down there, it was just overgrown with weeds and trash and what have you," recalled Nellie Lewis, a retired county teacher who chaired the beautification committee.
The project soon came to embody the group's determination to polish Brooklyn Park's image.
"We wanted to make people proud of our community," said Bell, a 64-year-old retired Baltimore City firefighter who labored through the summer tilling the hard-packed clay, spreading fresh soil and planting flowers.
Three men with the State Highway Administration's landscape architecture division helped the neighbors clear the debris and plant flowers. The state also chipped in "a few hundred dollars" to buy evergreens, mums and a few planters, said a spokesman for the highway agency.
By early September, the neighbors and state workers had transformed the weed-ridden lot into a flowering park. Bright chrysanthemums and gold carnations now bloom where soda cans once lay crushed into the soil. A bed of dark mulch has replaced the broken beer bottles, and a hand-carved sign stands proudly overlooking the people's park.
Harold Lysher, a 76-year-old retired cabinetmaker who lives at the corner of 2nd Avenue, carved the heavy wood sign proclaiming "Old Brooklyn Park."
"I just wanted to do something to give back to the community," Lysher said. "I grew up here and lived here most of my life, so I just thought it would be nice."
The community group has decided to thank Lysher by naming the new park after him. A dedication ceremony tentatively is scheduled for the end of October, once Bell and the neighbors finish planting shrubs and spreading gravel.
Although the clean-up effort continued through the summer, most of the residents who joined the beautification committee lost interest once the park looked finished, said Michael Davis.
"We have too many people who are all talk and no action," Davis told the more than 60 residents at a Brooklyn Park Improvement Association meeting last Tuesday.
Davis, who worked with Bell to clear the lot, is trying to revive the summer momentum and spark more interest in maintaining the park. He also is spearheading a fund-raising effort to purchase more shrubs and flowers.
The people's park has won the praise of county and state officials, who said they were delighted that a group of neighbors transformed a vacant lot into a flowering park.
"They all deserve a lot of credit, especially Bill Bell," said Joan Cadden, a community activist and candidate for a District 31 seat in the House of Delegates.
Cadden helped secure two matching $250 grants from the county for the park. But she said the money paled in comparison to the work of the neighbors, who sweated through the summer creating a community milestone.