CLEVELAND — Whether it’s to get some exercise, to get your dog some exercise, or to just get some fresh air, everyone has their reason to get out to one of the 18 Cleveland Metroparks.
“For me, it’s the access to the lake, the green space, and just getting out and not feeling like we are closed in and confined,” said Jon Wlasiuk.
Wlasiuk and his wife Annakiss Mausar-Martinez make it a priority to go to the parks at least once a week.
“We often come to Edgewater or Rocky River because those are nearby, but we’ve gone to all of the parks in the last year,” she said.
They’re not alone, the Metroparks saw a record number of 19.7 million visitors in 2020.
“It’s good for your mental health to get outside, to get outside and enjoy the outdoors,” said Keven Eiber, who has been visiting Edgewater for years. “The park got a lot more use, the numbers of people visiting the park went way up during COVID.”
But despite varying reasons to get out and enjoy the outdoors, there’s a common theme at many of the reservations.
“They all have a lot of litter,” said Mausar-Martinez.
Wlasiuk makes it a point to never come to the park without his trash-pick-up tools.
“I have my cleaning, my trash gripers, in the car so I can use them at any time,” he said. "I dedicate an hour or two to picking up some trash and helping to clean up a part of the city, a part of our community that we all share."
He said the most common items left behind are golf balls, alcohol containers, fast food bags, and wrappers.
The problem was highlighted by Cleveland Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman when he took to Twitter to show a photo of a destroyed park table with trash scattered throughout the table and the ground. The caption read “If COVID-19 weren’t enough! This! The destruction of park amenities and the amount of littered unbelievable! We are short-staffed please help! Our parks deserve better! Clean up after yourself!!”
Matt Krems, senior park manager for the Metroparks, said the current staffing shortage makes the litter problem even worse.
“It’s just on top of what was a very challenging last year,” he said. “When our very skilled technicians and tradesmen are cleaning up trash it just takes away from some of the other great work that we can do in terms of improving the park and making things nicer for our guests.”
He doesn’t believe it is all intentional.
“We want to always give our guests the benefit of the doubt,” said Krems. “Anywhere you can put it as opposed to just being loose blowing around for the animals getting to it, but pack it in pack it out would be first and foremost.”
Mausar-Martinez agreed, it is most likely not purposeful.
“People don’t realize they’re doing it. Some of it is intentional, but I think most of it is that there’s not enough receptacles,” she said. “I think it’s certainly a challenge the institution is going to be facing in order to meet the demands of the consumers of the users of the park.”
Eiber believes it’s due to a number of reasons, including the need for more receptacles.
“In the morning, it’s just all over and it blows around and it’s just, there’s not enough places for people to put their trash.”
But Krems said right now, to keep the parks clean and help the staff out, as a rule of thumb if you pack it in then pack it out.
“What makes the most work for us is when trash is on the ground and the wind catches it, it blows it scatters and we really have to track it down that makes a lot of work for us.”
Wlasiuk and Mausar-Martinez have a no waste policy.
“We aren’t leaving anything behind,” she said. “We can do it just so that everyone can enjoy it and things are not so dangerous for everyone.”