Reports of vandalism in parks in Southeast Washington's Kenilworth and River Terrace areas dropped to zero this year, thanks to volunteer youths who became Keepers of the Park Service (KOPS), say park police.
Kenilworth and River Terrace parks were heavily vandalized last year, and efforts to halt the destruction proved to be futile until motorcycle officer Mel Bradford asked for the young reinforcements.
Seventy-five youngsters from the two communites and D.C. Village participated in the program which was initiated by the U.S. Park Police with assistance from the McDonald's Corporation.Officers Karen Lee and Edward Hampton guided 8-to 13-year-old youths in beautification projects, field trips and activities with the park police. Horseback and radio-car rides were provided by the transportation units, said Lee, and the helicopter division allowed the youths a bird's-eye view of park equipment. Also, there were basketball clinics, a bicycle safety course and free lunches from McDonald's.
The purpose of the eight-week program, said Bradford, was to deter vandalism by instilling community pride in the youngsters who frequented the parks.
McDonald's and the park police recently held an awards ceremony for the young KOPS. Park Police Chief Jerry Wells presented them with commendation certificates and a group picture of the KOPS crew.
Mary Jo Dematteis, public relations director for McDonald's, said commemoration placques citing the youths' achievement would be installed in parks at Kenilworth Acquatic Gardens and River Terrace.
Also on hand to greet the youngsters was Ira Hutchinson, deputy director of the National Park Service and former director of that region, National Capitol Parks East.
Throughout the day, various park officers told the saga of KOP member Jonathan Salter. Officer Edward Hampton said he had ridden past the Kenilworth Gardens Park late one Friday evening and found Salter guarding the flowers in front of the park recreational trailer.
"I was standing where the blue-and-white house was, making sure nobody would knock them down and mess them up," explained the 12-year-old. "Around there they knock anything down." Salter said he guarded the flowers about three hours; then he went home. The day he and a friend returned to guard flowers by the swings, he said.
Eventually, other KOPS copied Salter's tactics forming flower sentrys. The park Service said 325 marigolds, geraniums, and dusty miller border plants were planted by the young crew at a total program cost of $2,000.
A recreation area in Kenilworth that had been unrestored after a new sewer line was put in was also replanted by KOPS, said the service.
The parks department hopes to continue and expand the program in the future, said Capt. William M. McQueeney, director of community relations.