Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cleaning up the Playground

Monday morning was pretty nice for fall in Minnesota, but there is colder weather and snow on the way so if there are places to clean up before winter it's kind of now or never.  There's a short path in the woods along the Mississippi River next to the James Rice playground and it was one of those places that still needed to be spruced up.  Monday morning it looked like this, like you would expect a wooded path in nature to look like in the fall. But it didn't look like that just last week.

A few weeks ago during an evening walk I noticed a tent had been set up along that path.  Now, the wooded trail is just below the regular paved walking path and in full view when the leaves are off the trees.  I made a mental note that there would be cleanup to do at some later date.  The person camping here was not there long.  A day or two at most.  Personally, I'm not opposed to camping in the park.  Just pick up your stuff when you leave.  But I get it, there are all sorts of issues related to affordable housing in the Twin Cities.

Possessions were covered but were they abandoned?   I waited a couple of weeks.  At what point do you start a cleanup?  It rained.

I was walking by one day and noticed someone kind of poking around in the stuff.  The bike and some other stuff disappeared.  More rain.

Time passes and nature takes it course turning the path into a dump.  A good wind will start blowing stuff into the river.  Ok, I think, I can start hauling some things out of here.  There's a variety of stuff; wet books, kid stuff, fabric scraps, clothes, rotting fruit, and all kinds of miscellaneous household items.

I called Park and Rec and asked that their maintenance crew come and haul it out.  Unfortunately it was one in the afternoon on Friday and their day was almost done.  Their crew starts at 5am and is done by 2pm.  I piled about half of the stuff into a more visible section of the park above.  I wondered what would people walking by think.  Would they just wonder about the trash itself or maybe think about the homeless who occasionally live in the park. 

So Monday morning I walked back up to the playground.  It was really rainy and windy Saturday.  I wondered what it looked like on Sunday morning.  Everything in the pile I created and what was left down by the river was gone.  I'm sure Park and Rec arrived early and hauled it out.  I picked up a few things that got missed; one metal curtain hook and one scrap of fabric.  I noticed one of the trash cans by the playground was filled with stuff.  I recognized a few things in there from the trash pile.  There was the pink handle of the umbrella I'd brought up.  I was both glad and sad to see it.  It's a waste of someone's personal possessions and yet I believe other park users probably pitched in to do some clean up over the weekend  before Park and Rec arrived.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

High Life

I was planting native plants with a volunteer work group of about 30 people a week or so ago at Mill Ruins Park along the Mississippi River.  As we were getting started one of the coordinators of the group asked if anyone knew what is the primary thing that pollutes the river.  I thought to myself that surely I must know the answer to this.  Pop quiz.  I hate pop quizzes.  A few of us shouted out answers.  My response was pet waste.  I knew it wasn't right when I said it.  Finally someone from the Dept of Natural Resources said stormwater runoff.  Ack! I know this.  Of course I know this. The term dumb bunny crept into my mind.  The reason we are replacing invasive species like crown vetch with native plants along the river is because those native species with their very deep root systems are better at filtering out pollutants from runoff.  At the end of our volunteer morning we emptied our purple plastic bags full of vetch into a compost area.  The coordinator used the word resource to refer to those plastic bags.  Why not use those bags again until they are unusable?  I was hoping that the group would also work on litter pick up but we didn't have time for that.

A few days later I was off to clean up some litter on my own with my new litter grabber that one of the Mill Ruin work group coordinators had given me.  I had been watching a number of homeless folks over the last month or so who had been living under the Hennepin Bridge.  I happened to be on the bike ramp looking over the railing at a pile of buttons in the weeds.  They were blue and green plastic buttons with a note that said 'butts for buttons".  I don't even know what that means and I'm afraid to google it.  My camera lens had broken and I was getting a grinding noise and blurry pictures so no photo to be had.  Just then a couple walked by and started heading for the homemade cardboard house up in the rafters of the bridge. They are not the first people I've notice temporarily living there over the last few years. The flat concrete area suitable for sleeping is about 25ft up a stone wall and I had been wondering how folks get up there.  I had convinced myself that they dropped down from above and swung around a wire grate, but no, I watched the couple quickly and athletically scale the wall.  When the guy noticed that I was watching he shouted out to me "the police know we're here and sometimes they bring us lunch".  I responded with something like "I'm just watching you climb that wall and am amazed at how you got yourself up there so fast.".  So a few comments back and forth and I told him if you see me around I'm just picking up litter around the river.  He said they try to clean up their litter.  That couple is gone now as is their cardboard house and I give them a B minus on their cleanup effort. I picked up a little trash under the bridge, not everything, but I wondered what happened to them.

Another couple of guys had been also living nearby under the same bridge but on a concrete slab right next to the bike/walking path.  Out in plain sight, horribly uncomfortable, an all around bad place to sleep at night.  Those folks are gone too.  Litter left behind. I am just the observer and cleanup crew, but D minus for you guys.  So I looked over the railing to see if the third camp right along the water was gone too.  Yes, gone and a big bag of litter was wedged into the rocks below. Good job just not finished. I hopped over the railing and dragged it up.  I spent about 1/2 an hour picking up stuff and left it all by the park and rec trash barrel.  There is more to do but instead I wanted to walk up river a bit.  I wondered what happened to everyone and then I got to thinking about something that I'd seen on Facebook from Samantha Pree, one of the candidates for city council.  Basically she wondered if police were evicting homeless from places that would be embarrassing to the city as we get ready to be hosts for the Super Bowl this winter.  But that seems like a long way off.  But maybe that is exactly what is happening.

Further up the river I returned to work in the woods next to the kid's area at the James Rice Playground.  This was my second time in the last month working that set of woods.  A rough estimate is that I found about 60 quart bottles of Miller High Life (they weren't all empty) and another 40 quart bottles of gin.  Most were under vines that I had to trample down to reach.  I was glad to have my new litter grabbler.  Resources, not just litter.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Ole Olsen Park Native Prairie Garden

If I ever look back on this particular blog I will remember it as a day when I felt I was in danger of losing my optimism about the world and this country in particular.  We've had a number of bad things happen.  There's the string of hurricanes (Harvey in Houston, Irma in Florida and the Caribbean, and Maria in Puerto Rico).  And then yesterday we had the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas.  What's a person to do when you feel like things are crumbling around us.  Well, not to make light of it, but I did take a piece of chocolate cake out of the freezer.  Second, look for some positive stories in the areas that interest you.  Lastly, take a walk and don't give up on the idea that whatever small things we do in our community do make a difference.  So I walked about 2 miles upstream north of downtown Minneapolis to see what progress has been made on the prairie garden in Ole Olsen Park.

Folks volunteering with Friends of the Mississippi have been working the river banks in this area to create a native prairie garden.  The flowers and grasses provide bee, butterfly and bird habitat and reduce the amount of pollution going into the river.  It has been awhile since I've been up here and it seems like the project is pretty much finished.

So what did this area look like a couple of years ago and why is this better.  Most likely this area had quite a bit of crown vetch, an invasive pea family plant that has a pretty little pink flower on it.  The bees probably like it just fine. So why is that bad.  Well, apparently it crowds everything else out and has a short root system that does nothing to filter out pollutants heading for the river.  The Department of  Transportation brought it over from the other side of the world years ago thinking it was a good thing.  The variety of newly planted native species have deep root systems which are much better at helping to filter the pollutants in the water that head to the river from all our streets and non porous surfaces.  You know that river there is our drinking water.  I didn't bring a bag with me on this walk to pick up trash.  But on the way home I pulled some crown vetch and that made me feel more optimistic.