September 21, 2008

Volunteers Unite for Park Cleanup

By Angela Deines

By Angela Deines


A dedicated group spanned across Willow Park on Saturday morning, determined to make the capital city more attractive.

"We decided it would be great to help the community and be examples of what people should do," said Gwen Gigous, 28, of Topeka.

Gigous was one of about 30 volunteers who showed up to rake, pull weeds and pile up cut tree limbs in the park along S.W. 6th Street across from St. Francis Health Center. The project was part of the Topeka Tree Team and Keep America Beautiful organizations' efforts to improve the aesthetics of the city.

Topeka Tree Team co-founder Lynn Hultquist, a certified arborist and horticulturist, said it takes the partnership of his group, working with the city, to accomplish the labor-intensive cleanup projects.

"Government and private citizens should always be partnered up to help the community," he said. "It doesn't take a lot of volunteers to clean this city up."

In May 2006, Hultquist and retired Topeka surgeon Mark Saylor started working with city, county and state governmental entities to clean up overgrown trees and shrubs at the entrances to Topeka and along the major thoroughfares. Now, as a group under the umbrella of the local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, the Topeka Tree Team goes out on the third Saturday of each month to trim and cut trees and shrubs in areas deemed a priority.

"These partnerships are what make it happen," said Philicia McKee, executive director of Keep America Beautiful. "None of us could do it alone."

Kevin Duermeier, an arborist with the city's forestry department, worked Saturday morning to cut the dying limbs off a 50-foot hackberry tree. He said the low-hanging limbs were posing a hazard over a children's tire swing in the park.

But beyond the safety issues, Duermeier said partnerships with community volunteers are important for many reasons.

"It helps them realize how much work actually goes into tree care," he said, "not only for beautification but for safety, too."

Casey St. John, 20, said although he was at Willow Park as part of the hours he needs to complete for mandatory community service, he felt good about the work he was doing.

"It helps make the community look better," he said. "This is a good park. I have good memories of playing here as a kid."

For more information about the work of Keep America Beautiful and the Topeka Tree Team, go to

Angela Deines is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at [email protected]

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