Dozens discuss Hillside Park problems

More community use, better policing among suggestions

Recorder/Paul Franz
Hillside park swastika

Recorder/Paul Franz Hillside park swastika

GREENFIELD — Forming a neighborhood watch, creating a community garden and holding events like concerts and movie screenings were just a few of the ideas residents had Wednesday night when they went before the town’s Public Safety Commission to discuss how to take back Hillside Park.

About two dozen residents met with the commission, police chief, mayor and several town councilors to discuss how they might once again feel safe in the park.

Margaret Betts, a member of the town’s School Committee, who, as a town resident, brought the issue of illegal activities going on in the park to Town Council’s attention earlier this month, said she was happy to see so many concerned citizens express their fears and concerns.

All at the meeting agreed that the town will have to take a multi-pronged approach.

Police Chief Joseph Burge said that he would like neighbors of the park to call police any time they see suspicious activities going on there. He said he would like them to call with as many specifics as possible, and told them not to worry about calling too much.

Burge told residents that police can’t spend all of their time at Hillside Park, but they can respond to crimes or suspicious activity happening there.

Some residents suggested that there be more lighting in the park, while others said they’d like to see cameras installed.

“We’re a safe town, but you can’t expect residents to stand up to people dealing drugs,” said Betts. “I’ve lived in many places (cities), but the first drug deal I ever saw was in Hillside Park.

Betts said she’d like to see arrests made, because she feels it would deter others.

Burge said police need enough evidence before they arrest anyone.

The park was recently renovated by the town with a $360,000 grant. Everyone agreed that the park could be a great resource, with its new playground and its basketball court, ball field and other amenities.

Some said they’d love to see a stage built there where community movie nights and concerts could be held.

Police and town officials said they’d like to see residents take back the park and spend as much time there as possible, because that would deter criminals from using it.

Residents would also like to see the fencing repaired there so that people can’t use the park as a shortcut to Conway Street, and they said they don’t want to see its parking areas plowed in the winter, because that would deter people from using it then.

Benjamin Miner, who began Skate Greenfield to explore how the town might bring a skate park back to Greenfield, said the town might want to consider putting a skate park there. He said that would ensure there would be people in the park much of the time.

Gary Longley, chairman of the commission, said he is really interested in the community surrounding the park forming a community watch group. He said people wouldn’t have to take any unnecessary chances, they could watch from their windows and report to police.

Rick Roy, one of the town’s recreation commissioners, said he is happy that there is so much public interest. He said he has heard many good ideas, but the overpowering idea for him is simply to have lots of people use the park.

He said he was also happy that Burge promised that police would take everyone’s calls concerning the park.

Roy said he wants to keep the issue in the public spotlight, because that’s how it will be resolved.

Betts said just since she reported the problems to the mayor, police, council and The Recorder a week ago, she and others have seen a decrease in suspicious activity in the park.

“We’ve got the momentum going, so now we can’t stop,” she said.

Betts said she hopes residents, police, the mayor, the council, the Recreation Department and others will work on the issue through the fall and winter.

“By March 1, I’d like to see us working on our park, so we can all use it soon after,” she said.

Betts said she hopes to see volunteers helping clean up the park for use once again by residents.

Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller, the councilor for that area, said she is pleased and excited that so many want to take back Hillside Park.

“We all want to make it a usable, welcoming place,” said Shapiro Miller. “A lot of people would love to see a community garden there.”

She said she loves the idea of a community watch that would bring people together.

“A lot of good could happen from this,” said Shapiro Miller.

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