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Supporters and staff battle trash at Arnold Arboretum

Posted by boston.com  October 28, 2013 04:08 PM

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When Dana Ortegon recently saw litter scattered all over the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, she took a picture of it and posted it to twitter with the caption, “All that’s missing is a crying guy on horseback. Shameful.”

“The particular spot I tweeted about is obviously a place where people go to party,” said Ortegon, who lives across the street the Arboretum near Faulkner Hospital. “The reason I tweeted the picture is because it was just so much worse than I’d ever seen it.”

Ortegon said though most of the Arboretum is kept free of litter, there are certain areas in the park, a lush, 281-acre refuge in the heart of Boston, where trash piles up. She doesn’t view herself as a crusader. But she uses the park to walk her dog and notices when the debris piles up.

Sometimes, she said, her discoveries are unsettling.

“I actually found bags which still had black-tar heroin in them,” Ortegon said.

A couple of weeks ago, Ortegon decided to take matters into her own hands. Together with her 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, she cleaned the area and posted a picture after the cleanup. Yet even after carting off the litter, she said, she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable walking her dog there anymore.

“Even after I picked up the trash, I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to bring my dog here because there’s so much broken glass,” said Ortegon, who’s been taking the same route in the Arboretum for the past year.

The battle against trash in the park isn’t new, said Andrew Gapinksi, supervisor of horticulture there. He said his staff finds hundreds of beer cans and liquor bottles on a “continual basis.”

“We’re in an urban environment, and on a weekly basis we’re cleaning up the obvious signs of a party,” he said.

The Arnold Arboretum was founded in 1872, on land whaling merchant James Arnold donated to Harvard University with the goal of creating an open greenery for both public use and research. To this day, the area is used by the residents of Boston as a park, while the staff there maintains the grounds for research in botany.

Jon Hetman, communications and stewardships officer for the park, said that the fall is always a particularly busy time on the grounds.

“We see the highest levels of visitation when the landscape is most visually-striking,” says Hetman, “So peak flowering time in early spring and the foliage change in October are our busiest times.”

But increased visitation can bring about more litter on the grounds, particularly at night when the staff is gone, said Gapinski.

“There’s parts of the Arboretum where parties are normally held,” he said. “I think it’s mostly happening after the staff has left for the night and most others who utilize the Arboretum are gone.”

Sheryl L. White, visitor education assistant of the park, said nicer weather lures people out to party on areas like Hemlock Hill. Often they leave behind liquor bottles and fire-pits, she said.

“I’ve met people in their sixties who remember partying on Hemlock Hill [years ago],” said White.

When these parties occur and litter is left behind, cleanup crews employed by the Arboretum clean up, White said. But she acknowledged that the staff can’t find every piece of debris.

“We have a wonderful staff, but not an unlimited one,” White said.

Gapinski said he’s aware that cleaning up after parties on a “weekly basis” comes with the territory of his job.

“We are open to the public on many different sides and people are in the Arboretum all the time,” Gapinski said. “Many times they’re up to no good. It’s a constant thing that we have to deal with.”

Ortegon said she’s sympathetic with the park’s staff. She praised them for doing a good job of maintenance, but added that it’s up to patrons to ensure they’re doing their part to clean the space as well.

“It’s an amazing space,” she said. “I just want people to pick up after themselves.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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