Virginia Pleban is getting ready for next week’s Lake Elmo City Council meeting, when council members will consider the Adopt A Park program she proposed to them last summer.
She plans to wear a T-shirt that reads, “Never underestimate an old lady gardening.”
Adopt A Park, similar to the state-sponsored Adopt A Highway program, allows local volunteers to do minor maintenance in their favorite public parks — weeding and planting flowers in the spring and summer, cleaning up debris after winter.
Although the program would be new to Lake Elmo, it has been operating in other metro area cities for some time.
Edina’s Adopt-A-Park program has been around since at least 1994, according to Janet Canton, a coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The program’s popularity may be due to the recognition it provides — a park sign lists volunteers by name — or maybe just “giv[ing] back to the community,” she said. Volunteers groom 30 of the city’s 36 parks.
Adopt A Park also has been a hit for four years in Hopkins, where solid waste coordinator Pam Hove said the program is popular because it’s easy to participate. The city requires volunteers to check on their parks once a month and report any vandalism or concerns to the Public Works Department.
In both Edina and Hopkins, the city supplies plastic bags, brooms and shovels, and gives them access to park shelters. Golden Valley, Hastings and Richfield also have Adopt A Park programs.
Lake Elmo City Administrator Kristina Handt said three people already had applied to adopt a park, including George Johnson of the Friends of Sunfish Lake Park. Johnson brought his application to City Hall last month, just before the Parks Commission voted to recommend the program.
Johnson, who has lived in Lake Elmo his entire life, said he’s concerned about invasive buckthorn taking over one of his favorite parks.
“It just grows faster than any other plant,” he said. “Then it takes over native species.”
Hove said she had admired a similar program in her hometown of Ames, Iowa, where volunteers took charge of flower beds and gardens. Hopkins volunteers have adopted all but two of the city’s 15 parks and a trail, she said.
“We have a small city, ergo, we have a small [Public Works] department,” Hove said. “So it’s nice to have an extra set of eyes.”
The program has seen highs and lows in Mahtomedi, a city of 8,200, where city staffer Luann Tembreull said only three of 22 parks have been adopted this year. Records show past spikes — for example, 12 parks were adopted in 2012 — but that number fell to eight the next year.
Tembreull, who accepts applications from volunteers, said she publishes a notice in the Mahtomedi newsletter every spring on Adopt A Park and encourages previous adopters to return.
“It’s pretty sad,” she said. “We have all these parks and not that much interest.”
In some parts of Mahtomedi, neighbors take charge of local parks even if they haven’t officially adopted them, said Public Works Director Bob Goebel. He said that the volunteers make a difference and that his team of seven full-time employees can use the help.
For one thing, volunteers often report vandalism that city workers don’t have time to notice. And then there’s garbage; Goebel said that volunteers collect it while his crew often doesn’t have the time.
Johnson said he hopes that the Adopt A Park program can bring Lake Elmo residents together. He said he has participated in a Roseville park cleanup, which he said drew 30 people on a Saturday morning.
“That’s what I want,” Johnson said. “It’s just a great way to get to know people.”
Emily Allen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.