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Oct. 21, 2021

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Groups seek to clean up Water Works Park

Neighborhood associations, city join forces driving out crime, sprucing up area

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Colleen Neel of the Central Park neighborhood, back center, dumps a load of tree clippings onto a tarp, while Darrel England of Rose Village, left, watches on Jan. 17.
Colleen Neel of the Central Park neighborhood, back center, dumps a load of tree clippings onto a tarp, while Darrel England of Rose Village, left, watches on Jan. 17. The two participated in an event to clean up west Vancouver's Water Works Park. Photo Gallery

Concerns about neglect and safety at Vancouver’s Water Works Park have galvanized the city and four neighborhood associations to work together to clean up, drive out crime and organize family-friendly events at the 20-acre park.

Leaders from Central Park, Maplewood, Rose Village and Fourth Plain Village neighborhood associations have formed the Central Park Activities Committee to spearhead the action plan. Residents from Harney Heights also are participating in the effort.

The committee’s long-range vision involves a series of improvements, including adding or improving park amenities and hosting family-friendly entertainment. Committee members have set a meeting for Feb. 6 with city employees to discuss some of the committee’s proposals.

“They’re really motivated to clean up the park and make it a more family-friendly place, which is wonderful,” said Jessica Antoine, an outreach coordinator with the city’s Urban Forestry department.

Despite persistent rain, 43 volunteers participated in a Jan. 17 event the committee organized to clean up the park, which is located at Fort Vancouver Way and Fourth Plain Boulevard in the Central Park neighborhood, said Central Park resident Colleen Neel. Volunteers worked two-hour shifts picking up litter, removing plant debris and scrubbing down memorial plaques and other park features. Meanwhile, the city provided garbage bags and containers to dispose of yard debris.

“It was pouring down rain, but everyone was in a good mood,” said Heather England, a volunteer from the Rose Village neighborhood. “I think everybody cares and that was nice to see. Even a couple of homeless people in the park helped us out when everyone was working.”

Neel said she used to avoid the park because of criminal activity, aggressive panhandling and illegal camping. Since the cleanup, Neel said she has twice taken her 9-month-old golden retriever, Jack, on walks through the park.

Future clean-up events are planned, but no dates have been confirmed.

One of the committee’s priorities is to reopen the park’s restrooms, which were closed several years ago due to budget cuts. They said city officials have so far resisted the idea. But functioning restrooms are crucial to attracting families into the park, committee members said. They want to start movie nights for families to bring a picnic dinner and watch a film, as well as to host entertainers and athletic events. However, they said attracting people to recreational activities would be challenging without functioning restroom facilities.

England said she, her husband, Darrel England, and their four children like to ride bikes on the park’s trails, but the activity is often cut short when someone has to go to the bathroom.

“Most of the time, we either call it a day or try to get into the McDonald’s,” she said.

The committee also is seeking sponsorships to install park benches and host events.

“We are expecting to have to raise funds to get the restrooms working again,” Neel said. “We’re just waiting on the city to give us a number (on the cost).”

Neel said she hopes the committee’s efforts will complement upcoming improvements by the city to the park’s water station, which includes replacing a reservoir and adding security lighting along pathways.

The 20-acre park’s main function is to provide about one-fourth of the city’s potable water.

The neighborhood push to revitalize the park intensified in August when Larry Good, owner of Southwest Washington Surplus, hosted a community meeting to bring together city leaders, law enforcement and community members to address problems in the park after the 13-year-old son of one of his customers was assaulted inside the park. The boy had to be taken to a hospital emergency room with a concussion, broken teeth and lacerations.

In addition to violence, the park is the site of aggressive panhandling, illegal camping, tagging, vandalism and drug dealing.

Vancouver police said insufficient lighting and the park’s thick woods and brush help hide illegal activity and increase the difficulty of patrolling the park and catching suspects.

The meeting was the impetus for another meeting in December when the committee was formed.

“If we start taking care of (the park), everybody will fall in line,” Heather England said. “Everyone will have more respect for it. That’s what I’m hoping.”

For details about volunteering for the Central Park Activities Committee or sponsorships, write to colleenneel@gmail.com.

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