Saving Greenleaf Park.

Living across the street from Greenleaf Park, we sort of think of it as an extension of our yard. 
Once upon a time, there was a ‘sprinkler’ there.  Not the fancy spray park that’s there today. In fact, there are no remnants of that today, just a field of grass.  The old sprinklers were two metal poles with 2 showerheads stuck on top, on opposite sides, on a concrete pad.  You needed a ‘key’ to turn them on – a tall, heavy, metal pole that is used to turn water on and off at the main.  You could borrow a key from the city, although a neighbor had one, and after a time, Pat decided that since we lived across the street, it was only fitting that we have one as well.  So, two of us had keys to turn the sprinklers off and on.   On hot days in the spring, before the pools would open, the call would go out, and all the kids in the neighborhood would run under the sprinklers – we would block the drain hole and create a wading pool for the babies and the big kids would run around with cups and have a water battle.  The parents would sit on blankets, in the surrounding grass with beverages and snacks and when the water throwing battles got heated and someone would run our way hoping to be protected, we would yell at them “THIS IS A DRY ZONE!”.  It seemed the babies would prefer to be naked (at least, this was the case for mine, who was for at least 4 years running, the first naked kid in Greenleaf Park for the year) and it was lovely.  When the kids got bored and wandered off to the playground, we’d turn the water off to conserve it.  It really was quaint and sweet and would bring the entire neighborhood together.
People who didn’t live in the neighborhood that would chance upon these times would ask how to get a key.  We always referred them to the city.  Some of our friends from outside the neighborhood would know we had them and would come to borrow them, but we tried to keep it as quiet as possible.  We’d hear that the sprinklers at Greenleaf Park were the best kept secret in town.  And we liked it that way.
Over time, the old sprinklers started to deteriorate.  Badly.  We knew they needed to be more than repaired, they needed to be replaced.  There were many fierce debates about how to handle this – the city had a history of taking out equipment that needed to be repaired and just well, taking it out.  Not replacing it.  We lost the big slide that way, the digger, the merry go round…..We didn’t want to see that happen to the sprinklers.  Meanwhile, Belmont Park on the other side of town had just gotten a really incredible new spray park.  What if we asked the city for something like that, but not as big and fancy?  The Belmont sprayground had a water recycling feature we really liked, and bonus, it was touch pad activated and timed, so there would no water running for hours on end (as would sometimes happen when people from outside the neighborhood would get a key.)  That was a pet peeve of ours – going to the park and the sprinklers running with no one running around under them.  A few of us neighborhood folks would see that and take it upon ourselves to turn the water off if there were no kids using it. Oh yes, we would get into arguments and oh yes, we heard we had a reputation around town.  We saw ourselves as the stewards of the park, since we all lived around it and used it, daily. Over time, we watched a hill erode from the water pouring down from the sprinklers.  We knew something had to be done.   
So, the two of us with keys approached the city about replacing the sprinklers at the park.  It was actually an easy sell.  They put in the recycled water feature, they put in a touch pad for the kids to use, they even put a pad under it that was much softer than concrete.  It completely changed the nature of the park and the park, already a very popular park, became THE most popular park not just in town, but in a multiple county area. 
Greenleaf Park was already a birthday party & end of school year picnic hot spot for sports teams, preschools, as well private schools in the area, but suddenly, they were all there AT ONCE. 
It became so over run that the neighborhood kids stopped going.  Fender benders and near misses at the entrance of the park became a regular affair.  When the small lot in the park filled up, people would park on the street around the park, with little regard for driveways.  Heck, some of them would park in people’s yards.  Those of us that live closest to the park got used to picking up garbage and dirty diapers that got left behind.  (Never mind that there’s a restroom with a changing table in the park, apparently, a stranger’s front yard is a much better spot for that activity.).  I find myself constantly asking people to get their kids out of my yard.  I’ve had to ask people to please not let their kids urinate in my yard.  It’s really just ridiculous.
There is a pavilion at the park, that is on a first come, first served basis.  There are generally no less than 10 birthday parties a day on a weekend there.  Parents fight over the pavilion.  They show up at 6 am and will rope it off, for a party at 4 that afternoon.  I’ve heard tales of fist fights over use of the pavilion.  The park is not big enough for this kind of use, nor does it have the parking.  Some Saturdays, we leave our house to go to a soccer game, and cannot park within blocks of our house when we get home. 
Last spring, I witnessed 2 preschool picnics, a group from the city upper elementary school up the street, as well as two busloads of children from the county’s public schools, all using the park at the same time.  It was wall to wall people.  The park was overrun.  And that was just one day – try that amount of traffic every day for most of April, May and into June. Our neighborhood was being overrun.  
I attempted to contact the city parks & rec department, as well as the entire city council, trying to get them to address the situation.  Trying to get them to come see for themselves how this was degrading the park.  Degrading our neighborhood.  I couldn’t get anyone to return a call or an email.  Frustrating.
The other night, city council had a town hall meeting for our neighborhood.  I showed up and started my statement to the council by telling them how many times I had tried contacting them, as well as parks and rec about this.  I’m pretty sure that got their attention.  As I spoke about the problems at the park, I noticed alot of other residents nodding.  When I mentioned that busloads of Albemarle County kids are still getting dropped off on a regular basis, that made them sit up.  They assured me they would change the pavilion usage policy, to now require reservations. They will not allow large groups to use the park. Hopefully, this will help slow down the number of parties over there.  Hopefully, it will get enforced. 
 It made the front page of the paper the next morning.   A few neighbors have told me thanks and how proud they are that I was not willing to let it go.  I figure, I was responsible for changing the park, for making it as popular as it is today, so I need to continue to take responsibility for the park.  My own child may have outgrown the park on a daily basis, but living across the street from it, we are still affected by the use of the park.  I like to be able to park in front of my house.  I don’t want to pick up other people’s garbage.  I really don’t like having to pick up dirty diapers.  I especially don’t like people yelling at me about how they and their children are entitled to trample my flowerbeds and my vegetable garden.  I wonder how they would feel if I were to do that to them, and frequently ask that.  That usually shuts them up and makes them leave.  Just because we bought a house near a nice park doesn’t mean our property is public property. 
I was proud of myself for getting the sprinklers replaced, even if I don’t always like the end result.  It was better for the park in the long run. What I like the most about being in the paper for speaking up at Thursday’s meeting is that I now have a public record of city officials saying they will address the issues.  I’m proud of myself for going and speaking up.  I hope this means more good change for the park.

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