Condition of parks frustrates residents

Litter, safety hazards mar many in city

officials promise improvement

July 09, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Reggie Wilson Sr., whose son plays on a Baltimore Little League team, is embarrassed when his 13-year old travels to the suburbs and sees how manicured the fields are there. Lights gleam overhead at night. The infields are smooth. The pitcher's mounds are free of glass and weeds.

As his son wriggled into his jersey for practice in the city's Leakin Park yesterday afternoon, Wilson led a tour of his child's Field of Nightmares.

Rocks litter the base paths. Waist-high weeds sprout through warped bleachers. Black graffiti has been scrawled across the door of a fetid restroom. Broken box springs and a computer terminal have been dumped beside an adjacent city parks building, which is burned out and houses rusted oil drums.

"My wife has complained to the city parks department several times, but nothing ever happens," said Wilson, a 46-year old Baltimore County police officer who remembers a beautiful field when he played here in the 1960s. "Why is it the kids in white neighborhoods have well-maintained fields, and we have to put up with this garbage? A kid could get seriously hurt playing here."

Yesterday was the first day in office for the city's new acting director of parks, Kimberley M. Amprey, whom Mayor Martin O'Malley picked to clean up the department's act after firing Marvin F. Billups Jr. last week. The mayor criticized Billups -- whom he appointed about two years ago -- for failing to work fast enough to overhaul the department and respond to complaints about litter and poor maintenance.

"After two years in office, the time for patience is over," O'Malley said yesterday. "It's not right that trash is lying around the entrances to the parks. The parks are an important part of our city. ... I told [city parks officials] they would have to do a better job."

The conditions of the city's parks vary widely, with Patterson Park, Federal Hill and a few others near wealthier neighborhoods such as Guilford -- which often have strong community associations -- neatly groomed, with beautiful gardens and well-maintained playground equipment.

Others, among them Druid Hill Park, retain a ragged beauty despite rotting picnic shelters and scattered trash.

And in some, such as Traci Atkins Park at Ramsay and Stricker streets on the west side, children as young as 6 show visitors hypodermic needles peeking from the wood chips and lift up their pant legs to show scars caused by glass at the base of slides.

The reasons for the sometimes deplorable condition of the city's parks vary; city budget cuts often are noted, as well as the large numbers of drug addicts and prostitutes who use the parks.

The new director of parks was not available for comment yesterday. But a spokeswoman for the department, Annette Stenhouse, said Amprey and other department employees plan to work "extremely hard to improve the park system."

Stenhouse said that the city will look into reports of illegal dumping at Leakin Park, where Reggie Wilson Jr. and his fellow members of the Forest Park Little League practiced yesterday.

"It is unacceptable and illegal to dump in any city park, and our environment control unit will investigate," said Stenhouse.

Attention from the city couldn't come soon enough for Rodney Butler, manager of the team of 13- and 14-year olds. He pointed to the black eye of his third baseman, Darnell Dickerson, 13, and blamed it on the crazy jump of a ball on the rocky, uneven field.

Symbol of decay

Behind him stood a symbol of the park's decay: a burned-out former stable. Now it's a charred, weedy nest of rusted oil drums, which city officials say their employees apparently put there.

"That should be cleaned out and fixed up," said Butler. "This park is not maintained at all -- no cutting of the grass, no raking of the fields, fences with holes in them. Sometimes we have to spend half the practice clearing rocks off the field."

At Druid Hill Park yesterday, the grass was mowed and many areas free of litter. But the rolling landscape of tall oaks and elms and the views of the glimmering lake occasionally were marred by scattered beer cans and potato-chip bags. The stately Latrobe Pavilion, with its red and gold pillars, is rotting around its base and has been defaced with black magic-marker scribblings.

Across the city in East Baltimore, neighbors of Patterson Park say that area has been moving in the other direction. No trash was in sight yesterday. Flowers bloomed among the neatly landscape grounds surrounding the recently renovated pagoda near Patterson Park Avenue and Pratt Street, which boasts fresh paint and stained glass windows.

"There is no question Patterson Park has seen an incredible improvement over the last two years," said Tracy Morgan, 36, who took her two sons, ages 1 and 3, on a walk in a stroller past the pagoda.

Needles and trash

But in Atkins Park in East Baltimore, Takia Williams, 11, pointed to a hypodermic needle at the foot of a picnic table near where five girls played yesterday. Around them was broken playground equipment, and the grounds were thick with papers, bottles and drug paraphernalia.

She and other friends showed scars from falling on glass scattered throughout the playground. Williams kicked the needle.

"I see these needles here all the time," Williams said. "Once I brought one home to my mother, who said not to pick them up anymore. I think this whole playground needs to be cleaned up and fixed."

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