Trash and graffiti keep Presque Isle parks staff busy

1 month ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle Recreation and Parks staff have been busy cleaning up city areas for spring, and some human handiwork has made things tough.

Besides trash left over from suspected homeless encampments at Riverside Park, a dugout at the Bishop’s Island ballfield was recently defaced with obscenities and racial slurs.

With a pavilion, walking path, splash pad and a large recreation area, Riverside Park is one of the city’s most used public spaces. The encampments in particular have spurred safety concerns from residents, some of whom have vented on social media pages like Concerned Citizens of Presque Isle. 

They’re not the only ones who are frustrated. The graffiti and widespread trash upset visitors and make more work for staff, said Gene Cronin, the city’s recreation and parks director.

“We’ve heard a lot of complaints. Obviously people are upset by the vandalism and language and depictions that have been spray-painted on the dugout,” Cronin said. “They’re also upset at the littering from encampments, and there’s a safety concern.”

The graffiti was visible on Monday and included obscenities, racial slurs and other statements, including a swastika. 

Though Parks and Recreation staff called in the Presque Isle Police Department, so far police haven’t reported any leads on who defaced the property, Cronin said.

Most of the graffiti was removed earlier this week.

The trash from people living in wooded areas of the park has been an ongoing problem, Cronin said.

“We’ve been battling the encampments for the past two years,” he said. “It really started [when] the voucher program for different hotels ended, and people didn’t have a place to go. They tried to find their own places.”

Cities throughout Maine have wrestled with tent cities in the face of growing homelessness. Bangor and Portland have fought to eliminate the encampments. Though Presque Isle has no major tent community, tents and trash have been spotted at different areas around the city.

The problem is that people set up tents and shelter temporarily on park property, then move on and leave the area a mess, Cronin said. Then park staff are left to deal with the garbage.

On Monday, a partially cleared wooded area in the park was littered with the remains of tents, paper trash, rubbish and clothing. The area has since been cleaned up.

Police will be increasing patrols in the area, Cronin said, but he and staff have other ideas to help deter people from camping in the public space.  

They want to start a park ranger program to help increase monitoring in the city’s public areas. Rangers would patrol parks and the bike path at random times, he said.   

The other element involves tackling trees and brush near Riverside Park’s paths.

“We’re limbing trees to get things more out in the open,” he said. “It will make it more visible through there and there will be fewer places to hide.”