Residents aim to take back Hillside Park
Mayor William Martin said last fall that he would like to eventually hire several park rangers to patrol town parks, including Hillside Park, above, but because of budgetary constraints he will start with volunteers and see how it goes.
(Recorder file/Paul Franz)
Trash in woods between commercial building on Conway St and Hillside Park's back fence.
Joel Borgerson plays with his 3 year old daughter Siri at Hillside Park in Greenfield last September. This summer, neighbors are taking steps to make the park safer by joining a neighborhood watch program.
People cutting through Hillside Park utilizing gap in fence.
There is a gap in the fence in the northwest corner of Hillside Park in Greenfield. ONe suggestion was that the town take down the fence that surrounds the park, rather than patch it.
GREENFIELD — Residents who want to work with the town and its police to take back Hillside Park from drug dealers, vandals and other law breakers have some suggestions on how that might happen.
Margaret Betts, the School Committee member, who as a West Street resident has led the charge on the park issue, has submitted her ideas to the mayor and police.
First, she said, residents, especially those who abut the park on Grove, Elm, West and Conway streets, would like to see people who smoke in the park ticketed.
Betts said many teens and adults smoke in the “smoke-free” park, which has several signs telling them not to, but no one is ever stopped and ticketed.
“I’ll bet if someone knew they were going to get a $100 ticket they’d stop,” she said.
She said residents would also like to see more and larger trash cans placed throughout the park to try to keep it clean. She said regular volunteer cleanups would help.
Graffiti, including swastikas and other obscenities, has been painted over in recent days.
Betts said there have been many good ideas about how to keep the park active and full of law-abiding residents, which many believe would chase away the law breakers. Those include creating a community garden there, or possibly the town or volunteers building a stage where concerts could be performed and movies could be shown.
Mayor William Martin said they are all good ideas, but the town and its residents will have to figure out how to raise the money that would be needed to implement some of these ideas.
When asked if the town could use another Community Development Block Grant to do some of the work and improvements, Martin said that would be a possibility, but did not commit to it. Greenfield used $360,000 in block grant money three years ago to renovate the park.
Christy Moore, the town’s recreation director, said building a stage to make the park a busier place would be a great idea, but, again, would take money.
A group of parents and concerned citizens recently raised half of the money to build a $50,000 playground on Beacon Field, but town officials believe it would cost more than $50,000 to accomplish what everyone would like in Hillside Park.
Betts said other options that were suggested by other residents include building a skate park, a dog park and having more ball games there to keep a steady stream of people going in and out of the park.
“They’re all good ideas,” said Betts. “I’d like to see us all start getting into this so we have solutions by next spring.”
“Arrests need to be made,” said Betts. “That would show others, who are thinking about doing something illegal, that we mean business.”
She said she would love to see a police presence in the park as much as possible — most of the time, if possible.
Acting Police Chief Joseph Burge said now that police are aware of the seriousness of the problem, they will check more often but can’t be there around the clock.
Burge has asked that residents who live near the park and see something suspicious call police, and keep calling as many times as needed, until people doing the illegal activities are caught.
“We have to know it’s happening, identify and target suspects, and do the investigating before we arrest someone,” said Burge. “We need the public’s help.”
Burge said there have always been issues in Hillside Park, dating back to well before the park was renovated in 2010, but it was only in the past several weeks that police have been hearing desperation in residents’ voices.
The police chief said the town’s full-time downtown officer, Jason Haskins, has now added Hillside Park to the places he patrols during his shift.
Burge said police are short-staffed, though, and have an average of only three to four patrol officers covering each shift, so those officers have to be where the most serious crimes are taking place.
Since Betts went before the Town Council earlier this month to discuss the issue, she said illegal activity in the park has seemed to decrease a bit and police have been there more often.
Betts said she’d like to see the town fund more officers, maybe with grant money.
She said the park isn’t used as much by residents later in the evening and during the winter, but the problem has been most noticeable this past spring and summer, because that’s when parents are out with their small children.
It still isn’t clear to police or town officials where the law-breakers are coming from; whether it’s people who live in the neighborhood or beyond.
Mayor Martin has suggested the possibility of hiring “park rangers,” though he said he doesn’t have any details about what a park ranger’s responsibilities would be, because he has not had a chance to discuss the issue with the Public Safety Commission.
The mayor said an example of what he’s thinking about would be to combine the town program that gives seniors a credit on their tax bills for the hours they volunteer in town with hiring park rangers.
He said the rangers would be trained and would be the “eyes and ears” of the police. He said they would not perform dangerous duties, be armed or confront anyone.
Instead, if they saw something suspicious, they would call police.
Residents are also asking that the town close a hole in the fence that surrounds Hillside Park. They said many teens and adults use the park to cross over to Conway Street by going through that opening.
“We have to keep at this,” said Betts. “Now that we’ve started, we can’t stop!”