A van transporting three women could be seen cruising the streets of the Douglass Park area on Saturday’s cold, wet morning. The reason for the trip – to judge a yard contest held as part of the area’s spring cleanup.
These three women have lived most of their lives in the neighborhoods near Douglass Park, and after 15 years of judging the best yards, they know almost every homeowner by name, as well as all the neighborhood gossip. But most importantly, they know their neighborhood has changed.
“The yards are beautiful compared to what they used to be,” contest judge Helen Thomas said. Almeta Crayton, the First Ward councilwoman and also one of the judges, said nicer yards mean residents are more concerned about their community.
She said after years of neglect and high crime rates, the community is moving forward and residents are taking a bigger role in that process.
The Douglass Park area spring cleanup is sponsored by Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Columbia Police Department. The event is part of Cleanup Columbia 2004, a citywide effort to clean up Columbia’s streets and parks.
The day included a trash collection contest for children and a cookout in Douglass Park with hot dogs and baked beans.
For police officer Mike Hayes, the sight of children sweeping the park in search of trash was a relief.
During the early 1990s when he patrolled the area, he said the park used to be one of the main hubs for drug dealers and the stage for violent clashes between some residents and police.
“We are getting the park back,” said Hayes, who grew up nearby. “There is no more room for drug dealing in this park.”
Bill Thompson, one of the organizers and a city parks and recreation employee, said this is the first time in three years that a cleanup has been held in this area.
The cold, rainy weather kept many from participating, but organizers said there was still a surprisingly good turnout.
Participation was also low for Cleanup Columbia, but the dedication of those who did turn out encouraged organizers.
“It was wonderful,” said Leigh Nutter, the volunteer coordinator for the city’s Office of Volunteer Services. She said the participation was incredible considering Saturday’s bad weather.
According to her estimates, 1,125 people participated and more than 1,195 bags of trash were collected.