For Marie Stockett, going down to Watson Park once a week to pull weeds is good therapy.
"I'm really starting to get into it," Stockett said. "It is like meditating. You have a goal and you work at it, and then you can step back and see what you've done. It really is fun and therapeutic."
Lawrence Parks and Recreation leaders are hoping there are plenty of Lawrence residents who need the therapy. The department is relying heavily on volunteer labor to care for the approximately 30 flower beds in Watson Park as part of a pilot project to maintain the downtown park without using pesticides or herbicides.
Thus far, 17 volunteers have signed up to do weekly work at Watson, a two-block park in the northwest corner of downtown between Kentucky and Tennessee streets. That number is not bad, but not great either, parks and recreation officials said.
"It is relatively new yet and the word is still getting out," said Fred DeVictor, director of parks and recreation. "Maybe it will pick up some this fall. It needs to pick up some."
Stockett, who led the effort to make Watson a pesticide-free zone, said she's pleased with the numbers because efforts to recruit volunteers didn't begin until the first week of July.
"It is a great number to start with," Stockett said. "Each week, more people have signed up. I think it is really just getting going. I think people will realize it is a great way to support a program to make the parks a healthier place for our children, our pets and the environment as a whole."
The 17 people, though, are too few to weed each of the park's flower beds. That has meant portions of the park may not look as manicured as they normally do. DeVictor said there were a few flower beds where Bermuda grass and weeds have taken a strong hold.
"There are some places that are sort of ratty looking, but we're just getting started," DeVictor said. "We're trusting that this is going to work."
Stockett said she believed more people would volunteer once they learned it involved little time. She said there were both large and small flower beds still available to adopt. She said most beds would take 15 to 20 minutes per week to maintain.
Stockett said volunteers are playing "catch-up" because city workers stopped spraying pesticides in June but the volunteer weeding program didn't get started until July.
"Some of them haven't been thoroughly weeded for a couple of months," Stockett said. "So that first time through makes it take a little bit longer."
Several Lawrence residents in the spring began lobbying to make the entire city park system pesticide-free. But city commissioners balked at that after a parks and recreation department report estimated the city would be spending an extra $200,000 a year by 2009 to maintain all its parks without pesticides.
But commissioners in June directed parks and recreation officials to begin a one-year test program on a highly visible park. DeVictor said his department was committed to the test project, even if the volunteer effort doesn't grow as large as he hopes.
"If it doesn't work, it just falls back on us to do more weeding - and we'll do that," DeVictor said.
- Volunteers losing battle to keep park pesticide free
- Watson Park set to be pesticide free (06-07-05)
- World Online: Panorama - Buford M. Watson Jr. Park
- Study: Pesticide-free parks would heap on costs for city (05-17-05)
- City Commission to consider plan to rid parks of pesticides (03-29-05)
- On the Street: Should the use of pesticides be banned in Lawrence's city parks? (03-29-05)
- Letter to the city commission about the proposal (.pdf)
- Proposal outline (.pdf)
- Compost giveaway returning (03-26-05)
- 6News video: Recycling changes lead to frustration (03-23-05)
- Environmentalists say it's easy being green in Lawrence (02-13-05)