Veterans Memorial Park Vandalized, Trashed, Defoliated

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rob Hepburn cleans up Veterans Memorial Park just about every day. Photos by KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

EIGHTH STREET – For 10 years, Rob Hepburn has assisted the City’s Parks Dept. with maintenance at tiny Veterans Memorial Park, located between F and G streets near City Hall.

In that time, he’s cultivated a lushly landscaped spot for gentle repose between a parking lot and Eighth Street. A small patch of grass is marked by a memorial plaque on a large rock under shady cedar and apple trees, surrounded by rosebushes, poppies, roses, sage and lavender bushes.

One day's harvest of spent liquor containers.

One day’s harvest of spent liquor containers.

The park is heavily used, because it is off the Plaza and outside the No Smoking zone. Its dense foliage offers a certain amount of privacy from the street view. It often hosts as many as a dozen or more individuals hanging out, sometimes clustered around a bottle or passing a joint.

“It’s a little sanctuary, and I like that idea as long as it’s not trashed,” Hepburn said.

The heavy use is taking a toll. Lately, Hepburn’s gardening duties have frequently included repairing vandalism and cleaning up litter and human waste. Rosebushes he provided at his own expense have been uprooted and stolen.

“It’s a lack of respect,” Hepburn said. “We’re talking about a minority of people.”

IMG_7457Much of the abuse happens at night, under cover of darkness. “I suspect that people get drunk and crash here,” Hepburn said.

That he can understand. It’s the vandalism – the graffiti smeared across the memorial plaque and the shrubbery thefts – that really trouble him. Just a few abusers are degrading the tranquil remove for everyone.

“We’re talking about a minority of people,” Hepburn said. “I don’t need them getting drunk and falling into the garden.”

Abusers seem to run the socioeconomic gamut. Last Thursday, Hepburn pulled a collection of liquor bottles out of the bushes. Drunks might be doing the littering, and homeless people may be responsible for the human waste and sleeping bag-sized flattened area amid the foliage, for lack of accessible alternatives.

He is fairly sure that homeless folk didn’t steal the rosebushes, but someone with a physical residence at which to replant them. Last Wednesday night, geraniums and sunflowers disappeared.

The area on front of the rock is heavily used for visiting. Someone wrote on the memorial plaque, and Rob cleaned it off as best he could.

The area on front of the rock is heavily used for visiting. Someone wrote on the memorial plaque, and Rob cleaned it off as best he could.

A backpack-wearing man named “Doc” said he had been using the park for five years “to medicate [with cannabis], hang out and have a little space out of public view.”

Doc said he and others clean up litter when they see it. “Not all of us street kids are bad,” he said. “There’s a small chunk that just don’t care.”

Hepburn, a Vietnam veteran, soldiers on, trying to maintain the tiny urban oasis. But he’s getting discouraged. “I’m feeling like, ‘OK, time to retire or just give up on it.” He blames a lack of enforcement for some of the problems.

“The issues at Veterans Park are similar to the issues we experience on the Plaza,” said APD Lt. Bart Silvers. “We receive complaints about smoking, drinking as well as animal complaints. Unfortunately the smoking ordinance does not apply to that park so that makes enforcement a little more difficult. We are doing everything we can to alleviate the issues by having our bike officer make that area a priority.”

Downtown Officer Chris Wilson is often seen stopping by on his police bicycle to chat with the park users, but the Plaza consumes most of his attention.

Hepburn hopes that publicity about the park’s challenges will improve behavior and self-policing by users there.

“This park has a memorial for veterans who died, but it’s for the whole community to enjoy,” Hepburn said. “I would like everyone to respect it.”