Park oasis in bloom at once-blighted site


Just north of busy 25th and Barclay streets, an oasis awaits weary city residents. Brilliant forsythia blooms, apple blossoms sweeten the air and 200 tulips offer a burst of springtime color.

The corner, once the site of a blighted and vacant city-owned house, is being transformed into a peaceful park, thanks to the collaboration of local residents, businesses and a corps of young adults. They're making good on a pledge to beautify the area and establish a monument to leisure on a city street beset by crime and grime.

"It's going to be a safe haven for everybody," said Betty Palmer, who lives nearby and is president of the 26ers, a neighborhood association. "It's not a playground, it's a quiet place to sit and read a book. To use picnic tables and benches and to hold a conversation."

The 26ers -- an organization of residents in the E. 26th St. area -- and some nearby businesses formed the Neighborhood Coalition Action Group last year and pledged to beautify the area.

The trash-strewn, drug needle-infested lot was cleared and the park built for nearly $20,000, including $3,400 in donations from local business owners and a $13,600 city grant.

Businesses such as Klug Uniforms, Oles Envelope Co. and Dallas-based Southland Corp., which owns the 7-Eleven chain, chipped in to fund planning and construction costs. Local landscapers donated plants, ground cover, bulbs and young trees. And a local lumber company donated slightly damaged wood for a large pavilion.

For much of the hard labor, area residents tapped an arm of AmeriCorps, President Clinton's national service program. Civic Works, a nonprofit group based in Clifton Park, sent over a team of young adults to build and plant the park.

Personal touches

The Civic Works crew members, ages 17 through 25, were paid $4.30 an hour to dig fence posts and install the pavilion.

They also added personal touches to the landscaping, designing a series of small rolling mounds of dirt and mulch that hold bulbs and flowering trees. On one hill, the street number "26" is spelled out in tulip bulbs.

At Civic Works, crew members work for one year in exchange for an award of $4,725 that must go toward education or student loans. Incentives aside, many said their work on the park was satisfying because they were helping to improve a city neighborhood.

Lynnoria Nobles, a 19-year-old who was expelled from Patterson High School in the 11th grade, says the work steered her toward a landscaping career.

"I'm ready to go to college to study bio-tech," she said. "I want to start my own landscaping business. I like planting the trees and fixing things up pretty."

Michelle Clark, 22, an East Baltimore resident who dropped out of school after the eighth grade, said her work at the Barclay park will enhance the neighborhood.

"It will do so much good for that community because it's a drug-infested neighborhood," she said. "The neighbors show their appreciation while we're not there because they keep it clean."

Growing protective

Indeed, neighbors have grown protective of their small slice of nature, which is expected to be dedicated in late spring after benches are installed.

Signs stating that the park will only be open from dawn until dusk will soon be installed. And eagle-eyed residents constantly watch the lot, closed off by a chain-link fence, for vandals and drug dealers.

So far, not one word of graffiti has been smeared on the park.

"This means a lot," said Rosalind Grossman, the former personnel director at Oles Envelope and one of the leaders in organizing the park. "The area is an eyesore, and this is something they can be proud of. There is another park nearby, but it's concrete and dilapidated. This place is green."

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