07/12/10 — City parks nightlife posing problems

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City parks nightlife posing problems

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 12, 2010 1:46 PM

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Conductor Jerry Phillips guides the Kiwanis train around Herman Park Sunday afternoon. City Parks and Recreation Director Ruben Wall told City Council members last week he is concerned about what goes on in many local parks when the sun goes down.

At just past 2 Sunday afternoon the Kiwanis train made its way around the tracks that grace Herman Park -- several of its passengers waving as they rolled by families utilizing the swing sets off in the distance.

A few moments later, 2-year-old Trinity Richardson ran to meet her father, Chris, at the top of a slide.

And Joe Cruz and his daughters weren't too far away -- the family sat under a tree during their short break from some weekend fun of their own.

A half-hour later, dozens of residents could be seen making use of one of the ball fields across town at Berkeley Park.

And Rachel Kornegay and her son, Miles, were walking through its woods with a camera.

"We like coming out here," Mrs. Kornegay said. "It's nice and quiet."

But Parks and Recreation director Ruben Wall reminded City Council members last week that not every image captured inside the city's parks is quite so picturesque.

"I have been out (to Berkeley Park) personally with my kids and on one occasion, I saw some children playing with a condom on a stick. It's very disheartening to see that -- kids walking around with that," he said. "We had some vandalism out there two weeks ago. Someone took a hammer or something and just beat ... the walls."

Despite the fact that many local parks seem to be getting good use as of late during the daylight hours, Wall said he is concerned about what happens inside them when the sun goes down.

So he asked the board to consider setting specific and consistent operating hours for them -- even suggesting gating Berkeley Park at night -- to maintain the "safest" conditions possible for residents and the properties themselves.

"That's one park, because it's so isolated, that at night, under the cover of darkness, the park is being destroyed," he said. "So that park, we need to gate that at night."

Several council members agreed.

"I think that's a good move," Bob Waller said.

"Oh, yeah," Mayor Al King added.

But keeping people out of city parks after nightfall is not a new idea.

In fact, police Chief Tim Bell said those officers who patrol at night often tell those parked at the Herman and Berkeley sites to find another place to hang out.

Wall, though, strongly believes that adopting hours of operation that are a bit more defined than "dawn to dusk" would make a difference.

"That way, they are easier to police. This will help us out," he said. "I mean, I was out (at Berkeley Park) at 11 o'clock recently and there were couples out there."

Cruz said he is not surprised that the council is talking about what happens at Herman and Berkeley when the sun goes down.

"I work at night, so I have seen some things when I drive by here," he said as he followed his daughters to a set of monkey bars. "I would be willing to bet I have witnessed a drug deal or two and for sure some sexual acts. ... I would certainly never bring the girls out here without some daylight."

But the father has other concerns, too.

"If you look down at the ground as you're walking around out here, you see broken beer bottles all over the place," he said, pointing at his youngest daughter, Matilda's flip flops. "Do you think I want my 4-year-old to get in the car with bloody feet?"

Yet he still brings his children to Herman Park nearly every Sunday -- and will continue to -- even if he admits conditions there "could be way better."

"I wish I had another option sometimes. I really do," he said. "They need a place where they can run free and not have to worry about going in for stitches later -- or worse. But with my schedule, this is the closest park to our home. How can I tell them no, you know? They want to be outside with me the one day I'm not working."