State, local parks look to citizens, corporations for help

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The maple trees and liriope grass in the triangular traffic island provide an oasis in the busy intersection here of Highland and Virginia avenues. Richard Anderson, who lives nearby, is pleased.

It took more than three years after he voluntarily drew a landscape plan to get City Hall to replace the former concrete surface of the traffic island with soil. Neighborhood volunteers finished the project and maintain it.

The city parks department, which provided the soil, pays the watering bills.

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Today, with federal and some local park funds drying up, many park directors across the United States are quicker to accept -- and increasingly seek -- private help. And they are finding it.

In Philadelphia, St. Louis, suburban San Francisco, and other cities, garden clubs, neighborhood groups, individuals, and companies are pitching in with rakes, shovels -- and cash. Vacant, rubbish-strewn lots are being turned into miniparks, barren parks are being replanted, and new parkland donated.

Such efforts are meeting only a fraction of the needs, park officials say, but they are encouraged by the trend toward more private help.

Federal aid for state and local parks has been eliminated under the Reagan administration's budget.

Over the next five years, state and local parks departments were counting on some $4 billion in federal aid -- about one-third of their total spending plans for buying new parks and rehabilitating old ones, says Rober Lancaster of the National Recreation and Park Association.

Federal block grants, with few strings, may take up some slack, but park officials will be in keen competition for them with other state and local officials.

Local tax revolts in California, Massachusetts, and some other places have put an additional squeeze on park funds. Many park facilities, already in bad shape acorss the country, will no longer be usable if something is not done "very soon," Mr. Lancaster says.

Many cities, like Atlanta, find themselves stuck.

"We can hold our own; we can't renovate, do new construction, or buy new land ," says Rob Rivers, Atlanta deputy commissioner of parks and recreation.

So Atlanta has just formally launched an "adopt-a-park" program. The aim: enlist neighborhood volunteers and businesses to help maintain parks.

Such a plan has blossomed in Alameda and Contra Costa counties on the Oakland side of San Francisco Bay. There, Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation has "adopted" Roberts Regional Park, donating some $60,000 for equipment. Several other firms have begun helping local parks and more help is being sought.

Several thousand acres of land has been donated by individuals and companies for parks, says Rosemary Cameron, a spokesperson for the East Bay Regional Park District there.

One of the nation's older self-help park projects is in Philadelphia.

Over the past 10 years, the Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America has transformed more than 100 vacant lots in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods into "vest pocket" parks. Some of the parks were specially designed for the elderly, others for young children.

"There's been very little destruction," says Mrs. Horace Jones, a garden club volunteer in Philadelphia. Because neighbors of each park helped build it, they take pride in it, she says.

In many cities, park vandalism has gotten to be a major and costly problem, according to officials such as Atlanta's Mr. Rivers.

In St. Louis, volunteers associated with the National Council of State Garden Clubs helped plant hundreds of trees under the giant arch on the bank of the Mississippi several years ago. And many member garden clubs across the United States have a park project, says Jane Schlereth, an official of the council.

The council has some 13,000 member clubs.

Mr. Lancaster of the National Recreation and Park Association is especially encouraged by one aspect of the trend toward more private help.

"We're getting more and more requests for information about establishing separate foundations for city parks," he says. Such foundations can provide a stable source of funds to purchase and develop new parklands, he says.

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