published Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Chattanooga calls for volunteers to assist in parks


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga employee Michael Wood takes a bag of trash to an on-site dumpster Monday at East Lake Park.
Chattanooga employee Michael Wood takes a bag of trash to an on-site dumpster Monday at East Lake Park.
Photo by Tim Barber.

IF YOU GO

* What: Chattanooga Parks Steward meeting

* Where: Stadium Club, Finley Stadium

* When: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 29

* Information: Contact Brian Smith, Parks and Recreation spokesman, at 423-643-6096 or smith_br@chattanooga.gov.

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A new city program hopes to inspire residents to take a larger ownership of Chattanooga's 65 parks, 35 miles of trails and 4,800 acres of land.

Brian Smith, the city's Parks and Recreation Department spokesman, said a Park Stewards program will be launched this week with an emphasis on getting more people into the parks to be the eyes and ears for the department.

With the city owning 4,800 acres of park land, it's tough to cover for a department that has 70 park employees and 10 rangers, he said.

"We're glad to have all that land, but we can't be there all the time," he said.

The Park Stewards program will kick off at 6 p.m. Thursday with a meeting at Finley Stadium, he said. The Parks and Recreation Department is looking for volunteers to participate.

The goal is to have people in all parks throughout the city, helping to keep them clean, aiding visitors who have questions and informing the department of any problems such as fences broken, trees down or graffiti, Smith said.

It's an idea that has been implemented in other cities across the U.S., Smith said, and there are friends of parks groups in Knoxville and Nashville.

"The majority of cities this size have this program," he said.

The stewards program is not meant to make it easier to downsize the Parks and Recreation staff, he said.

"It's not to create any cuts," he said. "It's just to have more people out and create visibility."

Everyone who joins the stewards program will be given a vest identifying themselves as a park steward. They also will be given cards to give to park visitors.

One thing they will not be is a policing agency, Smith said.

Angelia Stinnett, volunteer coordinator for the program, said that was important to her. She wants the stewards to be a positive presence in the parks, she said, and the hope is that, with the stewards in the parks, it also will help with safety.

"What will help in the parks is more people and lighting," she said.

The Parks and Recreation Department already is working on the lighting, she said, so now it's time to get the people.

Councilman Russell Gilbert, chairman of the council's Parks and Recreation Committee, said it's important for the public to be involved with their parks.

In the Washington Hills community, the neighborhood association has taken ownership of its recreation center, using it as a place to provide food to neighborhood children, he said.

"I think the communities would take more ownership," he said. "A lot of them are doing it now."

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