Making a difference: Volunteers step up around the county

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Some made a nice haul of cigarette butts. Some made gravestone inscriptions at the Old City Cemetery more readable. And some made local parks more welcoming.

They all made a difference.

More than 400 community members joined forces Saturday for the annual observance of Make a Difference Day. Billed as the nation’s biggest annual community service day, the fourth Saturday in October offered an opportunity to improve public places in Clark County.

The Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department mobilized volunteers for several efforts, from a Main Street cleanup to environmental restoration projects.

About 420 people took part, said Hailey Heath, a Parks and Recreation Department volunteer coordinator. The biggest effort drew about 250 people for a Burnt Bridge Creek tree-planting project near Leverich Park.

About 60 participated in “The Butts Stop Here.” After gathering at Luke Jensen Sports Park in Hazel Dell, they split into teams and swept through 10 city and county parks to pick up cigarette butts and gather litter.

“We had 18 bags of garbage from 10 different parks,” said Karen Llewellyn, volunteer program coordinator with Clark County Public Works.

“We got nine pounds of cigarette butts,” Llewellyn said.

According to a couple of online resources, nine pounds could represent 20,000 or so cigarettes.

The Uptown Village cleanup featured a salute to community activist Ryan Woods, who died of cancer last year.

“He was a guy who brought people together,” Heath said.

A couple of the efforts included ongoing community service projects, but the Make a Difference Day turnout actually did make a difference in getting more work done.

“We accomplished a lot,” said Zoe Hall, a Heritage High School senior who started a maintenance project at the Old City Cemetery almost a year ago.

“We had a good turnout, probably 25 instead of the 10 we usually have,” Hall said.

And the volunteers brought their own yard equipment, which made another difference.

“The way the cemetery is set up, it’s tough for big industrial mowers to go through,” Hall said. “A lot of people were weed-eating in between the monuments and mowing with their own mowers.

“A couple of people with leaf blowers blew leaves from the pathway onto the grass,” where another volunteer mulched them.

“About 10 people were scrubbing the markers with soft brushes, getting moss off them, making sure they were legible,” Hall said. “We also did the necessary garbage pickup. This is one of the more targeted places for people to drink and do drugs. Today we found way more needles than usual. We had so many people that we were able to get that taken care of.”

In addition to making a difference, many of the participants were able to make a connection — maybe with people who share an interest in public service, or maybe it was a connection with our common heritage.

The Old City Cemetery is the final resting place of many local pioneers whose names are part of the community, including Esther Short.

And many teens who enjoy summer days along the river at Wintler Park found that name on historic grave markers.

“My peers are recognizing names like the Wintlers,” Hall said.