CATSKILL — Community members are fighting to keep Howard Street Park clean, after talk of removing the park’s benches arose recently.
The park and its four benches are maintained by Cultivate Catskill. By day, residents enjoy the grounds during lunch hours but by night the park is home to littering and criminal activity, residents say.
“The park is a great asset of the village,” Cultivate Catskill member Hudson Talbott said. “It gets abused by other people, especially at night. Possibly even drug situations or exchanges occur there. There is a huge amount of litter. Volunteers are constantly cleaning up.”
Howard Street’s problem is relatively unique, Talbott said.
“At Leggio Park there’s benches and we don’t have this problem,” he said.
The village board proposed to eliminate the benches to discourage loitering, Talbott said.
“In some cases, our pocket parks are not being treated with the respect they deserve,” Village President Vincent Seeley said. “We are getting complaints from visitors, residents and business owners that they are finding everything from cigarette butts to beer cans in the parks.”
Seeley is also concerned about people staying in the parks for extended periods of time, he said.
“More concerning to me is that some of the transients parking themselves on the benches for hours at a time are being a menace to people walking by or trying to use the parks,” he said. “Last time I checked, holding down a park bench for hours at a time is not typically a skill you put on a job application.”
Talbott feels that removing the benches would do more harm then good.
“The other side of this is that community members sit there for their lunch hour, which was our original intent,” he said. “The litter mars it and diminishes the pleasure for other people.”
The community has also discussed the possibility of installing cameras or motion-sensor lights, Talbott said.
Talbott worries that the lighting may impact neighbors and that police may be limited in what action they can take based on video surveillance, he said.
“Right now we’re searching for a compromise,” he said.
Seeley agreed that he is open to alternatives.
Richard Wagoner put up signs to alert community members that they risked losing the benches if they did not keep the park clean.
“Removing the benches would be detrimental to the years of work Cultivate Catskill has put into the parks to make them the beautiful, welcoming elements of our community that they are.” Wagoner said. “I think the efforts to build a better relationship with the members of our community that had been leaving the park a mess in the past, encouraging them to take responsibility and better care for it themselves has shown a huge improvement.”
Wagoner also does not see how removing the benches would address littering, public intoxication or fighting, he said.
The Catskill Police Department has supported the community effort by making more regular visits to the park, Wagoner said.
Cultivate Catskill member Robin Smith organized a meeting with regulars who frequent the park.
Smith said she feels the conversations have been working.
“Most people we talked to don’t want us to remove the benches,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be as much litter or problems [since].”
The gathering was made possible by Santos Associates, Land Surveying and Engineering, as well as Wagoner, Smith said.
“Rip [Wagoner] invited everyone because he knows everyone on the streets,” she said.
Smith wants to see the park used to its full potential.
“We built that park for people to use but we don’t want that park to be abused,” she said.
Seeley hopes that residents will respect the hard work that has gone into creating the parks, he said.
“All of this comes down to common courtesy,” Seeley said. “The village is not in the business of teaching adults to pick up after themselves or respect their surroundings. Cultivate Catskill has done an unbelievable job beautifying the village. Having people disrespect our parks is a slap in their face and is unacceptable. Something needed to be done.”