Community gathers to clean up Austin parks

Andrew Kirsop

UT and West Campus community members gathered at Pease Park this Saturday for It’s My Park Day, an event aimed at improving the park through tree care and planting.

About 2,000 volunteers completed 54 park improvement projects across Austin for the event, which was organized by the Austin Parks Foundation. The foundation has hosted spring park days for 25 years, but this is the first It’s My Park Day held in the fall.

At Pease Park, three groups of volunteers mulched along trails and around trees and made seed balls, which are nickle-sized spheres of clay, mulch and seeds of wildflowers or grasses that can be thrown around areas that need more vegetation. 

According to Andrew Gill, executive director of the Pease Park Conservancy, 75 volunteers registered, but over 100 showed up that cloudy morning. 

“For us in particular, given our location, I think it speaks a lot to the UT community,” Gill said.  “Not only are they using the park, but they’re starting to be like ‘Okay, I use that park, I should give back somehow.’” 

Gill said events like It’s My Park Day allow people to contribute and become invested in local parks. 

“We’re pretty fortunate in that we’re starting to get the park users from the university coming down here and giving back to the park, which is awesome to see,” Gill said. 

Organization of the many projects involved coordination between the Austin Parks Foundation and each park’s event organizers.

The Austin Parks Foundation organizes the city-wide event and provides resources for each of the parks, which have conservancies or groups of dedicated volunteers who act as project leaders, Gill said. 

The organizers vary among the parks, but Gill said they are unified by their commitment to their parks. 

“They [parks] often have a friends group or a group of motivated neighbors,” Gill said. “It can be anywhere from a full-fledged conservancy to people that live across the street from a park that have long wanted to see it look better and they’re often the ones who organize events like this.”

Emma Hines, geography senior and president of the UT Geography Society, volunteered at Pease Park with members of her organization.

Hines said the Geography Society has come to past It’s My Park Day events in the spring and that volunteering, especially at outdoor cleanup events, is an important part of the organization. 

“We’ve done a lot of mulching,” Hines said. “One year we even got to hack away at some bamboo.”

Shelley Hardeman, development director for the Austin Parks Foundation, said Pease Park Conservancy has been a partner since 2008, and that the importance of volunteers can not be overstated.

“Our parks need the care because the Parks and Rec Department doesn’t have the money to maintain these parks,” Hardeman said. “Pease Park wouldn’t look like it does if it weren’t for these guys.”

She also shared why she believes Austinites are so committed to their public greenspaces. 

“When you look back in Austin’s history, you see parks being a really important part of our city from the beginning days,” Hardeman said. “They [Austin’s founders] set aside the Capitol land, Wooldridge Square, Brush Square, Republic Square … in the beginning when there wasn’t anything but greenspace. I think that’s been weaving through Austin’s values. Greenspace has always been an important part of who we are as a city.”