I Saw the Sign: Keeping Colorado Springs Clean through Volunteerism

damian 1Everywhere you go in Colorado Springs, you will certainly see the telltale green and blue signs: This space has been adopted by X. If you haven’t, go check out any of the medians on our major thoroughfares, or go look at nine out of ten of our public parks, any of our biking and hiking trails, or any stretch of highway in or out of the city. These signs are physical and symbolic landmarks of our citizenry’s growing sense of responsibility; in the face of a $24,000,000 city budget shortfall, the individuals and companies listed on the signs have taken personal responsibility for these open spaces.

With unemployment up and median pay down, folks nowadays have more time than money. For example, following the great recession, the people of our city began to spend more conservatively and, as a result, cut down on the tax revenue the city depended upon to maintain open spaces. As Douglas Brown says in his article “Colorado Springs Experimenting with Loss of Services,” “the problem ultimately hinges on the people of the city shutting their wallets during the economic downturn.” The people of Colorado Springs don’t mind picking up the slack, no matter what the cause.

Colorado Springs still maintains a marginal 15 out of 149 of its parks, and only those that turn a profit for the city through sporting events, gatherings, etc. Maintenance on the highway extends only to the asphalt and the shoulders. The remaining maintenance is taken care of on a volunteer basis in one-mile chunks. The amount of attention this space requires, without even including our trails and other open spaces, means that quite a large number of volunteers most actively engage in the process. The sheer quantity of caring individuals from our own community is surprising enough even before one knows what their responsibilities entail.

Most people don’t think about how much work goes into keeping our parks so attractive. Consider what it takes to maintain your own yard at the most basic level, and then beyond the daily or weekly cosmetic tasks, there is still work and maintenance on anything from your sprinkler system to landscaping projects. Now imagine doing this for someone else’s yard instead, out of your own pocket. That’s what these volunteers do weekly, plus cleaning parking lots, picking up someone else’s pet’s waste, and of course, cleaning up broken beer and liquor bottles. To put this in perspective, these individuals are doing what it takes to keep one’s yard pristine, and they are doing it somewhere weekly because no one else will. These caring members of our community work, build, and pay with their own time and out of their own pockets.

Some who do not have the time for this, others who simply cannot perform these tasks, and individuals and companies have found other ways to help. For example, one anonymous woman paid $37,000 to keep Nancy Lewis Park maintained for a year. Another anonymous donor paid an undisclosed amount to keep the Julie Penrose fountain flowing in America the Beautiful Park. The U.S. Olympic Committee, based in Colorado Springs, paid $125,000 to community centers to keep youth programs active. A large portion of the city’s community centers and youth initiatives such as little league sports and public library programs depend solely on these heartfelt and generous donations.

A multitude of communities in Colorado Springs have banded together to keep this city clean and beautiful in a number of ways in the face of a giant state funding shortfall. When we hike, swim, or ride a bike and see someone cleaning up, the chances are pretty good that the person doing the work is giving his or her own free time and money for that space. We should be thankful for such selfless service and show our appreciation in equally active ways. Our responsibility starts with personal obligations, but many in our community have shown us that it doesn’t take that much effort to keep open spaces clean and pretty for everyone. Moreover, when we don’t have the money to pay or the time to give, we can at least ensure we don’t make their job any more difficult than it already is.