New park mantra: Love it or leave it?

GGNRA Superintendent Frank Dean (left) and staff pick up mounds of trash (photo: Courtesy GGNRA)

San Franciscans say they have a close relationship with their local parks. But based on the conditions several parks were left in by Fourth of July partiers, it appears to be a love-hate relationship.

Marina resident Jimmy Jenkins rode his bike through Upper Fort Mason’s Great Meadow the morning of July 5. “I was shocked to see the amount of trash left behind by revelers,” he said.

There were the usual beverage and food containers, but in proportions the park’s trash bins could never handle. It was the number of larger items left behind – barbecues, folding chairs, ice chests, a couch, even a makeshift plywood bar – that raised the ire of park management and local citizens, and left the park looking like an evacuation zone.

A “swat team” of 55 Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) employees, from Superintendent Frank Dean to park interns, collected 32 cubic yards of trash from the meadow.

GGNRA staff had noticed a large number of visitors arriving at about the same time, and defined the situation as a “trash mob” in news reports because of its appearance of being pre-arranged.

“Obviously there were huge numbers of people, as there always are, but the amount of trash left behind was extraordinary, and we’ve not seen anything like it,” said Howard Levitt, GGNRA’s director of communications. “We have no specific information that it was of a flash mob nature, though.”

Upper Fort Mason parking areas were closed to everyone except residents by mid-afternoon on the Fourth, so everything had to be packed in by visitors. The problem is, they didn’t pack it out.

“The National Park system has a ‘Leave no trace’ program,” said Levitt. “In the aftermath of the July Fourth episode, we’re looking at ways to put a spotlight on the responsibility of visitors to care for their parks.”

For the America’s Cup, Levitt said that Crissy Field would take extra measures to avoid a repeat incident, but no problems were expected at Upper Fort Mason, because it isn’t a primary
viewing area.

“The experience we had on the Fourth of July is certainly no indicator of love,” said Dennis Kern, director of operations for Recreation and Park.

“Anecdotally, there has been an uptick nationally for planned outdoor events and gatherings; but usually with a permitted event, be it at Dolores Park or Marina Green, we require a plan for waste management,” explained Kern. “When there is no permit and people bring their own stuff with them, I don’t know what goes through their mind.”

“It seems like it’s a relatively recent phenomenon of the intensive trashing of these parks, and that’s a trend that’s disturbing to us,” said GGNRA’s Levitt. “When people trash a park, that’s pretty much a hostile action toward the park.”

Jimmy Jenkins agrees. “San Francisco is an easy city to love,” he said. “But then there’s marriage, or at least a long-term relationship. What happened at Dolores, at Aquatic Park, at Crissy, at Fort Mason, that was a one-night stand, and that’s pretty messed up. This beautiful lady deserves better.”

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