Parkside neighborhood association reactivates, sparking residents’ optimism

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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Residents say not much has happened in the Parkside neighborhood over the last two years, after its neighborhood association fell inactive.

But now, a group of neighbors, led by Cheryl Aichele, is ready to see some change and unite the neighborhood in the process.

“When you don’t have an active association, you can’t do much,” Aichele, 38, said.

She reached out to other neighbors and the city about revitalizing the association, she said, after seeing an April 10 story in The Columbian about issues with the Truman Neighborhood Association. A couple other neighbors joined her.

“We came together to figure out what we need to do,” Aichele said.

Members of the former neighborhood association fell ill, moved away or simply became too busy with their daily lives to keep up the group, said 50-year-old Ralph Heiser, the former vice president.

After reaching out to Judy Bailey with Vancouver’s Office of Neighborhoods, more than 50 Parkside neighbors met Aug. 17 to elect new leaders, including Aichele as president. They also filled the spots of vice president, secretary and treasurer, and created a traffic safety committee — a major concern for many residents, Aichele said.

Longtime resident Sharron VanHovel, 82, said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who attended the meeting, because usually only a handful come.

“I think it’s great. I’m all for it,” she said of the revitalized neighborhood association. “I can’t count how many times it just went to a handful of people. I’m hoping this works out; it’s really important.”

Although the newly elected association has accomplished much in the last month — including having all of the potholes in the neighborhood filled and graffiti removed — new officers must be elected at the Oct. 18 meeting. Aichele said the neighborhood’s charter requires the association to hold elections at the first meeting of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

In the meantime, Aichele created and distributed an online survey to determine what issues are most important to neighbors. Within the first couple of days, only about a dozen people had responded, but she said she’s hopeful the association will get good feedback.

“If we can get them active in participation, we can sustain this,” she said.

“One striking thing is all the neighbors, so far, agree they want a neighborhood cleanup day,” Aichele added.

At the August meeting, neighbors also expressed concerns about speeding cars and a lack of sidewalks in some areas.

The neighborhood is working on getting a radar trailer on Northeast 141st Avenue, Aichele said, and near Northeast 34th Street and Northeast 148th Avenue by Diamond Park. There are a lot of children in the neighborhood, Heiser added, who are often outside playing.

The park has also attracted more use, Aichele said, since receiving a new walking path and sprinklers. A basketball court was completed a few weeks ago, and new benches and tables were added.

“This park has improved 300-fold since it first started,” VanHovel said, as she and Aichele walked a lap around it.

However, there are concerns about kids being in the park after dark, drinking, smoking and doing drugs, Aichele said, as well as people littering. She walks it at night to deter some of the bad behavior and routinely picks up litter.

She met with Parkside’s neighborhood liaison, Vancouver Assistant Police Chief Chris Sutter, and neighborhood police Cpl. Jim Burgara on Aug. 29 to discuss some of the issues.

Aichele said she’s also heard neighbors complaining about off-leash dogs and bullying in the park, which she’s witnessed herself.

There are police officers on patrol Friday and Saturday nights in the area, but they are often responding to higher priority calls. However, Sutter said he would follow up with patrol sergeants about being proactive when they have time.

“We understand it’s a family park,” he said. He encouraged Aichele and other neighbors to contact police if they see people trashing the park, and to take photos of debris to provide to them. He said the neighborhood can likely get signs, too, about off-leash dogs.

As for bullying, if neighbors see anyone being assaulted in the park, they should call 911. Sutter told Aichele to get the word out to parents and encourage them to talk with their kids. He recommended posting something on the neighborhood’s NextDoor app.

“It’s so great seeing leaders in the neighborhood, taking charge of its destiny and working with the city,” Sutter said. “I’m really excited about the Parkside Neighborhood Association revitalization. Strong cities are created by strong communities.”

Since their meeting, Aichele said there’s been a decrease in teenagers in the park after it’s closed. It may be due to school starting back up, increased patrols or the fact she’s walking the park hourly on weekend nights.

She’s gotten to know many more of her neighbors, she said, since starting this process. VanHovel said she feels the same way.

“I’m hoping we all come together and be more of a community in itself,” VanHovel said.