InsideBayArea.com – by Laura Casey, Correspondent
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About 300 people showed up to the first cleanup effort at the Jean Sweeney Open Space Preserve Saturday, lending hands to spread mulch, remove prickly weeds, build demonstration planter boxes and paint whimsical murals in a part of the park near the city’s food bank on Thau Way.
Service Day at Jean Sweeney Open Space Park began at 10 a.m. and wrapped up around 4 p.m. Kids, teens and adults all participated in the event, sponsored by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan’s office and local businesses, at the city’s newest park.
“I came because I thought it would be great community bonding time and it’s great to hang out with friends and volunteer too,” William Schaff, 14, said as he spread earthy scented mulch along dry ground with a rake. “This area wasn’t being used or maintained properly so it’s good for Alameda that we’re cleaning it up.”
It was a warm, sunny day — nearly perfect weather for some physical activity in a park that has gathered tons of interest over the past few years. On one side of the relatively small area of the 22-acre park, volunteers painted murals with rainbows, birds and marching elephants to override the graffiti that usually plagues the drab concrete wall that borders the park. Teams of workers cut wood and screwed together planter boxes that will resemble the 70-plus plots that will be offered to growers once the park is funded and irrigated.
The park was filled with volunteers from Alameda Backyard Growers who held talks about gardening throughout the day. When the park allows for plots to be leased to gardeners, some of the food grown will go to the city’s food bank, said Alison Limoges, an Alameda County Master Gardener and member of the Alameda Backyard Growers.
“Volunteering today was a no-brainer because of my love of volunteering and my love of this community,” she said.
Alameda Recreation and Parks Director Amy Wooldrige said she hopes to hold a park cleanup day like this one every year, though some volunteers were hoping for a monthly event.
“I am always continually impressed by the community of Alameda and how much they want to help with this park,” she said.
Residents gave opinions on what they want the space, known as Sweeney Park, to be more than a year ago. It was decided that the space will have walking and biking trails, natural open space, picnic areas, community gardens, natural play spaces and open lawns. A tentative Master Plan has been circulating around the city and officials have gotten feedback that residents want the park less developed than what’s currently in the drawings, Wooldrige said. A final design will go back to the Alameda City Council for approval in April.
The park will take millions to develop and it is currently unfunded, Wooldridge added. While money is found through grants and donations, residents like park board member Tom Schweich are enjoying the space through cleanup events like the one on Saturday. Schweich is a hobby botanist and talked about the coastal live oaks that dot the landscape, trees that are protected by the city’s charter.
“This park is a wonderful opportunity for Alameda,” he said. “It’s the city’s version of Central Park. It really could be.”