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Neighborhood wants to clean out park

June 24, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

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Mills park

Mills Park was created as a haven for Hagerstown families seeking to escape from the rat race, but neighbors say their North End park has attracted an entirely different element.

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Unwanted guests have been defacing the park with graffiti and conducting what appear to be drug deals, said Willard Harper, 403 Belview Ave.

"It has largely been taken over by the cell phone and beeper crowd," Harper told the Hagerstown City Council.

Harper and about 25 North End residents took their concerns to the council Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, city officials and Police Chief Dale Jones talked about things they have done and plan to do to help residents combat the problem.

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"I really commended them in terms of what they've done on their own," Jones said Wednesday. "That's the spirit it's going to take to get it done."

City Police already have stepped up routine checks of the park, Jones said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he has noticed fewer unseemly characters in the park recently. He lives nearby and sometimes when out driving he follows cars headed to the park.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure, who also lives in the neighborhood, is calling for a bolder approach to show drug dealers they won't be tolerated at the park.

"This neighborhood has taken a stance about what is right and what is wrong. They need to challenge this territory," he said.

He proposed an organized effort by which neighbors routinely write down the license plate numbers of park visitors.

"We've got to break the pattern," he said.

Mills Park park was developed over the last 10 years on a pie-shaped piece of land behind the American Legion on Northern Avenue and bordered by Woodland Way and a railroad track, said Public Works Manager Doug Stull.

One of the city's smaller parks, it has a pavilion, playground equipment and walkways.

All parks face problems with drugs and vandalism, Stull said.

The problem at Mills Park got worse after a 10-space parking lot was put in within the last five years, Stull said.

Last year, the city spent $1,000 to have graffiti professionally removed. But within two months, the vandals struck again, he said.

Harper argued Tuesday that Mills Park deserves special attention from the police because of conditions placed on its use by former owner and mayor H.L. Mills.

Mills gave the land to the city in 1982 with the promise that it would be used for "family-oriented activities," but not sports like tennis, basketball, baseball and football.

Harper said there are no signs to let people know the park is a "drug-free school zone" although the area is close to four schools.

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