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Albany's new volunteer coordinator for Adopt-a-Park is Jill Van Buren. The initiative's first work party, a graffiti paintout at Periwinkle Park, was held on Saturday morning.

Parks are such an essential part of communities that it sometimes can be easy to take them for granted — especially in terms of upkeep and basic maintenance. 

And maybe nothing is as dispiriting as a park that's seen better days or is consistently overrun with garbage. What's the point of a park that nobody wants to go to because it's in shoddy shape? A rundown and deserted park also can serve as a magnet for certain unsavory types. 

The city of Albany has 36 parks that include 9 miles of trails and almost 700 acres of land. But it only has nine full-time maintenance staff workers to cover them all. It's simply too much ground for that staff to cover. And it's not as if city parks officials have a blank check to go out and hire as many souls as they need to keep all the city's parks in tip-top shape.

So we were delighted to read about a fledgling volunteer program that works with the Albany Parks & Recreation Department to help take care of the city's recreational areas. And it was particularly gratifying to learn that the inspiration for the program came from a member of the Albany Parks & Recreation Commission, Jill Van Buren.

It would have been easy for Van Buren and other commissioners to shake their heads in dismay when hearing about unmet maintenance needs in parks and then decide there was nothing they could do about it. Van Buren took matters literally into her own hands: Distressed by the appearance of her beloved Periwinkle Park, she came out with a shovel one day last summer and started attacking the overgrown areas the city hadn't been able to reach.

Then, as Democrat-Herald reporter Jennifer Moody explained in a story last week, Van Buren started to wonder if she had the right to do that maintenance work in the park in the first place.

So she went to Ed Hodney, the head of the Parks & Recreation Department, to pitch an effort in which volunteers could sign up to adopt specific parks.

Hodney didn't take much convincing. And he told Van Buren he had been looking for someone to volunteer to tackle the coordination of volunteers and serve as a liaison with the parks maintenance division. 

At that point, Van Buren could have said something like, "Let's get the Parks & Recreation Commission working on finding that volunteer coordinator." It would have been the easy (and maybe the most prudent) thing to do. 

Instead, she raised her hand to take on that duty herself. When she left Hodney's office, she said, "I was a brand-new coordinator, and we had a brand-new plan."

That plan involves having individual neighborhoods take care of their neighborhood parks, because they're closest and quickest to see the needs in each park and because each park may require something different. Already, adoptive groups have been established for Periwinkle, Sunrise, Swanson, Grand Prairie and Wren (part of Bowman) parks. A kickoff event was held Saturday at Periwinkle Park, where volunteers worked to paint over graffiti. It's an excellent start, but, still, about 30 parks are looking to be adopted. 

Van Buren is extending an invitation for anyone to join the adopt-a-park effort: Businesses and service organizations can join. You don't even need to live near a park to be able to participate in the effort — but with 36 parks in the city, chances are good that you live near a park. You might be able to provide just a touch of the tender loving care that will let that park reach its full potential. And the simple action of neighborhoods uniting to spruce up their parks almost certainly will lead to stronger neighborhoods, which helps make for a stronger city. 

To learn more about the effort, call Van Buren at 541-981-9973 or email her at mjvb47@gmail.com. (mm)

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