NORTH LEWISBURG – The combined efforts of the Champaign County Drug Free Youth Coalition and village of North Lewisburg led to significant improvements at the local park last year.
Following assessments of the park conducted by the coalition, measures were taken to deter drug use at the park, eventually leading to other efforts to improve the park.
Champaign County Drug Free Youth Coalition Director Stacey Logwood said the coalition bases every action it takes in the community off data. The coalition previously conducted a voluntary survey for children at the Champaign County Fair, collecting data on where substance abuse was taking place.
Logwood said this survey provided a variety of locations where substance use was taking place, including parks. After receiving survey results in 2013, the coalition ran the same survey in 2014 and received the same results.
The coalition began an environmental scan of Goshen Park in Mechanicsburg.
“In 2014 we started with the Mechanicsburg project at Goshen Park and we call our walkthroughs an environmental scan and it’s a great activity for our young people to feel empowered to do the work,” Logwood said. “We walk the grounds we’re looking in trash cans, we’re looking along natural and unnatural man made paths we’re looking just in any area where there could be debris from substance use especially some of those places such as the shelter houses.”
Working with the local park board, Logwood said the coalition invested about $10,000 installing signage, reinforcing that alcohol and drugs are prohibited. Security cameras were added to catch deviant behavior in the park.
“We had not been experienced as a coalition in doing physical design changes and we know through research that physical design and policy work are two of the most effective environmental strategies for behavior change,” Logwood said. “We’re not out there trying to convince one person at a time that drugs and alcohol are bad per se or to change their belief system, we really want to say if you live in the community the environment is going to shape how you’re going to behave because there’s policies, rules, monitoring supervision things that happen.”
After completing work in Mechanicsburg, Logwood said the coalition was feeling confident and continued to perform environmental scans at parks throughout the county. Due to the level of debris found, the coalition chose to address North Lewisburg’s park next.
While the park is smaller than Urbana’s Melvin Miller Park, Logwood noted the coalition noticed the park had a lot of access points.
“Every time we would come out we would see young people at the park, but they were never utilizing the park. They were coming from the wooded areas, they were coming from behind the bike path, they were coming out of areas where maybe traffic shouldn’t have been but that’s where they were emerging from,” Logwood said. “When we would pull in on several occasions, we would pull in and start out scans and then they would disappear into the woods and so we were like ‘what is going on in that woods?’”
Before making any changes to the park, the coalition performed three scans of the park. Logwood said the coalition performed scans at the park in the fall 2015 and then continued to perform scans in spring 2016.
Within their first scan the coalition found prescription pill bottles in trash cans, alcohol containers, cigarette containers and marijuana paraphernalia.
Logwood said park groundskeeper Bob Davis was helpful in this process, informing the coalition about vandalism at the park. This gave the coalition an opportunity to ask what would be helpful and use expertise to guide changes.
Davis informed the coalition that there was a security camera, which was defaced often. He added the security camera was being run through a concession stand building in the park and asked if the camera could run video to the municipal building.
The coalition also found a large debris pile of branches standing eight feet tall that needed to be turned into mulch. Logwood said the pile obstructed the view into the woods from the ballpark.
Logwood said the coalition invested $23,579.84 into the park, including the installation of 12 security cameras and hardware, the cost of brush breakup and mulching, and the installation of nine LED light poles to increase lighting in high traffic areas.
As part of the security camera improvements, a system was implemented allowing village officials to monitor the cameras remotely on different devices.
“We really relied on the groundsmen to tell us where the best angles would be,” Logwood said.
In addition to an increased ability to monitor the park, the village also implemented a policy change to support the use of the cameras in any legal process of charging individuals.
Logwood said the village proceeded to match the coalition’s efforts by doing a complete cosmetic overhaul of the park.
“We saw this sense of pride be really restored,” Logwood said. “(Village water/wastewater superintendent) Trevor (Clark) said ‘Stacey to be honest we had just given up on keeping up with this stuff because it’s going to get damaged again, there’s no way to really figure out who is doing it.’
“They started this cosmetic overhaul and the cosmetic overhaul has not only brought the school colors of Triad into the community park but they added benches over by the basketball court, they fixed and installed new playground equipment, they had a community service day where young people from across the community and different service groups came out and did a cleanup and painting of the park and so it just kind of was this huge kickoff to lots of new activities.”
Mayor Cheryl Hollingsworth said Triad Superintendent Chris Piper held a volunteer day where Triad students helped plant flowers, clean up the park and paint at the park. Hollingsworth said members of the United Methodist Church spent a week painting picnic tables, playground equipment, baseball dugouts and replacing swings which were stolen.
Hollingsworth said turning the park around was a three-month process from when the cameras were installed and cleaning up the park with volunteer work.
After the changes were implemented, Logwood said the coalition saw families enjoying the park for its intended purpose.
“For us it creates less opportunity for young people and adults to use substances there, which creates an inviting environment for the people to use it for its truly intended purpose,” Logwood said.
Without the initial efforts of the coalition, Hollingsworth said some of these efforts would not have happened.
“I could have gone down and painted everything and made the playground prettier,” Hollingsworth said. “But I think without the cameras and the focus on ‘let’s get the drugs out of the community’ that it wouldn’t have happened. It was just a phenomenal effort on their part recognizing the issue and helping us address it.”
Logwood said the coalition has conducted environmental scans at parks in St. Paris and Urbana but so far has implemented projects in Mechanicsburg and North Lewisburg. While they have a strong desire to work on Melvin Miller Park next, Logwood said the coalition did not receive another five-year federal funding grant which provided funding for the park projects.
“We are not going to lay down and say we can’t do this, but it’s going to require us to come up with a new funding scheme to be able to do those projects,” Logwood said.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.