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Editorial: Hillside Park can be reclaimed

Vandalism and drug use in public parks is not unique to Greenfield. You’ll find such conditions across the nation, in places teeming with people such as New York City and Boston to much smaller, more sparsely populated communities.

Still, what has taken place at Hillside Park should cause residents concern, especially since it has been just three years since an extensive renovation — one where the town spent $360,000 — was completed. It was a project that garnered much support when first proposed and then earned plenty of kudos and fanfare upon its transformation of a dilapidated park, with broken bottles and other trash littering the grounds and basketball backboards without hoops, into a clean and inviting place for the neighborhood and the rest of Greenfield.

Now, in what feels like a blink of the eye, that park has become a problem rather than a source of pride.

“The park is unusable by residents at this point,” Margaret Betts, a School Committee member, told the Town Council last week. “It’s not reasonable to expect parents to bring their children there until the circumstances improve.”

Improving the situation, sadly, may not be such an easy task. Tucked away from the streets that border the park, it’s not out in the open where police can keep an easy eye out for illegal or destructive behavior. Even increasing patrols of the park are not necessarily going to have the desired impact.

No, it’s going to take a bigger effort.

The key, as Recreation Director Christy Moore pointed out, lies in seeing Hillside Park get used more. More people at the park means there are more eyes watching and more voices willing to tell the police and other town agencies if something amiss is happening.

That means those from the neighborhood can’t shoulder the burden themselves. The park needs different segments of the community to use Hillside on a regular basis. Perhaps the Recreation Department could schedule events for the park.

Drive up its use and it’s quite likely you’ll drive out some of the undesirable behavior.

As to the park itself, we hesitate to see more taxpayer money put into Hillside, including Mayor William Martin’s thoughts about some kind of “park ranger” program.

We think there are some volunteers who might be willing to help fix some of the damage and remove the graffiti. But even that kind of project should only be taken on when there is a plan to reverse the trend here — beginning with greater use of the park.

In addition, the fence should certainly be repaired and strengthened, to make entrance from the nearby woods more difficult.

Greenfield can still see Hillside as a success story, but it’s going to depend upon the community deciding that it wants its park back.

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