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Volunteer Transforms Frederick Park

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JEN BONDESON
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Through the doors of a steel gate on Second Street in a small, enclosed park, Gayle Jackson sees endless possibilities for life and color.

She sees vines of ivy creeping up the side brick walls, dozens of cantalillies blooming in a garden in the back, pots full of flowers and decorative miniature fairy houses.

At least once a week she goes to Bonita Maas Park, at 7 W. Second St., to clean, sweep, plant flowers and decorate. In the fall, she planted tulips, daffodils, crocuses and alliums, some of which are blooming now.

Those who have been watching Jackson over the last year say she has transformed a grim, forgotten city park into a beautiful, cherished space.

Jackson says she needs the park more than it needs her.

Jackson, 57, a Mount Airy resident and science teacher at Mount Airy Middle School, started cleaning up the park about a year ago. She said she was going through a rough time, as both of her parents died and she had recently got divorced.

After taking a liking to the park, she asked the city’s Parks and Recreation Department what she could do to help.

“(Volunteering) is one of the best things to lift your spirits,” Jackson said.

At first, she would check with Tom Rippeon, the city of Frederick’s arborist and volunteer coordinator, before she did any work. Now, Rippeon has given her full authority to work as she pleases. The city sometimes drops off mulch at her request, sprays weeds and fixes problems that she points out to them. Other than that, Jackson pays for her supplies, plants and decorations herself.

“She has turned it around,” Rippeon said. “It is absolutely beautiful. She has brightened it, and made it desirable.”

The city rarely gets out to its smaller parks, as it maintains about 70 parks and other city land, Rippeon said.

The city is thankful for Jackson’s work, he said.

Jackson’s dedication and donations are amazing, said Bretta Bowers, who lives next door to the park and now knows Jackson well.

“This is the kind of project that I could see someone take on and then get bored with it, or burdened by all the work that needs to be done,” Bowers said. “But not Gayle.”

Each week, Jackson puts new flowers in Tupperware containers on small tables. She washes the brick walls, puts a dog dish out in the summer, and sometimes leaves surprises for visitors, such as place mats on the tables.

“It’s a creative place,” she said. “A very calm place.”

She had red, white and blue pinwheels ready, to line the gate for Memorial Day. She weaved evergreen in and out of the gate’s bars for Christmas, and did the same with laminated hearts for Valentine’s Day.

The park is a haven for homeless people, who often leave trash or belongings in the park and urinate on any vegetation that grows, said Kevin Parrotte Sr., who lives downtown.

“(Jackson) makes it look 100 percent better,” Parrotte said.

It has been a hot spot for crime at night, Parrotte said, because it is enclosed on three sides.

But because of Jackson’s work, he said, people are less likely to misbehave in the park.

“She keeps an eye on it,” he said.

Jackson said she befriends the homeless people. She knows most of them, their stories, and their daily routines. It has changed her, she said.

“They are so happy to have someone talk to them,” she said. “That is so meaningful to them.”

The park, and all of downtown, is a better place because of Jackson, Bowers said.

“(For visitors) to see the park, with the color and plantings, it has helped the impression of all of Frederick.”

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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