Mar 8, 2010

Knowing our history: Mary Helen Briscoe tells of community engagement with the park

One of the biggest champions of the Panhandle Park in recent years is Mary Helen Briscoe. I asked Mary Helen to share some of her park experiences. Here are some highlights from recent years in her own words and pictures.  

Neighbors getting organized to tackle problems
PROSF (Panhandle Residents Organization Stanyan Fulton) began in the eighties and from the first was involved with the Panhandle, the park being the focus of our neighborhood. Early on we joined with Clean City Coalition and other City-wide groups in picking up trash, which I'm bound to say was a worse problem in the nineties than today. There were many encampments and a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, especially near the old restroom and playground at Ashbury.

PROSF worked with the Capital Division of the Rec & Park Dept. to get the new restroom built after it had been closed for more than a year. PROSF also had many members in RAD, an organization working with the police and Guardian Angels to fight the drug problem in the Haight and Panhandle.

Learning to work with the city's Recreation and Parks staff
After working with Gloria Koch-Gonzalez, Park Supervisor, and Kristin Bowman of the R&P Volunteers Office on City-wide cleanups, Gloria asked me to be a volunteer representative for the Panhandle. Her persuasive powers, along with the charm and obvious needs of Guillermo, a Panhandle gardener, led to the regular cleanup, a joint effort with NOPNA (North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association).

The monthly cleanups began in 2007 and it was a great pleasure to work with Guillermo outdoors in a beautiful setting. He is so knowledgeable and cares so deeply about the park, especially the trees, that the cleanups are more than picking up trash, but also a learning experience about the needs and care of trees and other plants.

Guillermo gardens full-time in the park, and also has some fun planting flower beds and, in a whimsical moment, trimming a shrub into a rabbit. It can be found on the south side of the park near a utility box, east of Masonic. On one Saturday cleanup, we hosted a party in and around the playground for the children with refreshments and a pinata supplied by Guillermo.

What getting involved with the parks means to neighbors and families
The other wonderful experience in cleaning up is involvement with neighbors and city-wide volunteers. It is a delightful and hopeful sight to see young children wielding rakes and volunteers' dogs attracting the attention of passers-by. Although we've received thanks and encouragement from those on bikes or foot passing through, we've rarely been able to persuade them to help out. But we're raising consciousness!

Seeing people donating their time and energy to caring for their environment is a healthy example for others, especially the young. Adding more events in the park that are fun will engage people in their surroundings and help keep the park beautiful.

For the past two years PROSF with NOPNA has a grant application out for help in putting out a brochure describing the history and the trees of the Panhandle which are not only beautiful but historic and, often, rare. After the brochure, the plan is to fund at least one sign with the historic and botanical information about the Panhandle, to be placed at Stanyan and/or Baker. Due to cuts in granting agencies, it's taking time but we're still working on it.

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