I have mentioned before that we are now all part of a new paradigm in civic life, especially as it relates to our parks, trails and recreation programs. Traditionally, we have all come to expect a certain level of service by our government officials, at all levels of governance. This means that our parks are always there, always open and they are safe and clean—we don’t have to worry about them. They are there for our individual and collective use.
The new paradigm is not a great distance from this traditional view. It is merely a small step forward by the citizenry toward a closer level of ownership and participation than we have generally assumed. That one step is active care. Active, meaning you actually have to do something that in the past you did not have to do.
I am not asking you to become an arborist or gardener. The steps are simpler and more basic than that. But, in order for us to have a vibrant, excellent and accessible parks system, each person must care and act on that sentiment in some small way. This could mean volunteering, donating money or just keeping a watchful eye on your local parks and trails.
Today, I want to illustrate this principle by examining our Dog Waste Program. Dog Waste, once the laughter subsides, is a serious issue. It is both a health hazard to the general public and an environmental issue of significance. We are fortunate to live in an area where thousands of responsible dog owners take care of their own dog’s waste issues. But there are exceptions, and these dog owners are at the heart of the problem.
Ignorant dog owners don’t understand that the very natural process their dog follows every day is not all that natural in an urban and suburban setting, where the waste does not exist in an environment that absorbs it as it would in a completely natural setting. Children play in parks where dogs drop their waste. Park and trail users of all ages have to negotiate around this waste.
The city of San Jose’s solution was to provide dog waste bags for the general public in the city’s parks and along the trails. This service at dog parks was terminated due to budget cuts a couple years ago. The burden now rests with dog owners to police themselves. San Jose Parks Foundation took on the Dog Waste Program, hoping to secure donations from dog owners around the general principle that clean parks help us all.
We have created a network of volunteers who re-stock the Dog Waste dispensers. Many of these citizens are also donors. So far the program has been marginally successful. About 90 percent of the bags distributed have been paid for by donations. We intend to continue, but are hoping to see more people donate. There is a good cadre of volunteers, but a few more would help.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.