Charles W. Hill Park is a pristine patch of green just under half an acre, at East Oxford and Dewitt avenues in Del Ray. A paved walking path winds through it, and benches allow visitors to enjoy the shade, as well as the small flower garden planted around the park sign.
At Charles W. Hill, and a number of similar small parks in Alexandria, the city’s Recreation, Parks and Cultural Department relies on helpers to keep the public space clear of litter and debris. In this case, members of Alexandria Police Special Operations and their families clean and tend the park regularly as a tribute to the officer for whom the park is named. Hill died in the line of duty in 1989.
The volunteers participate through Alexandria’s Adopt-a-Park program, which is open to nonprofit groups and businesses and allows participants to clean up the park once a week from April to November. In return, the groups are eligible to receive cash awards, which can be donated back to the community or used in their own fundraising efforts.
Charlotte Nourse, city park manager, said the program helps Alexandria monitor small parks and public spaces, and minimizes resource demands on the parks department.
“It’s a great program that helps us keep the park clean, and the community gains, too,” Nourse said. “It can be challenging for our team to keep every [park] in tip-top shape throughout the year.”
Alexandria has more than 100 parks, many of them small, unnamed parcels the city has received as part of agreements with builders and developers. Of these, 36 have been adopted; 20 of those adopted parks are less than an acre in size. Frequently, participants in the Adopt-a-Park program are members of neighborhood community associations who live near the park.
Several parks still need some loving care, including several in the city’s West End area, where participation in the program has traditionally been low.
Groups are expected to clean the parks on a weekly basis. Parks employees inspect the adopted parks once a month, awarding up to 12 points a month to groups based on their performance. Groups can receive a maximum of 96 points per year.
Organizations can earn up to $5 per point for parks under an acre and $10 a point for larger spaces. Last year, participating groups earned as much as $3,000 for their efforts.
While adopters have the opportunity to donate cash awards back to the city, this rarely happens, Nourse said. Instead, they often use the cash awards as a chance to raise funds for their group.
“At the end of the season, we try to talk them into donating money back to us to use for trash cans and benches, but they tend to use the funds for whatever their organization needs,” Nourse said. “We’re still getting a really good deal.
“Half the goal is getting our parks looking really nice for people who use them and enjoy them,” she said. “The other half is for the public to take ownership of these spaces and parks; it’s their space, after all.”
Lanyi is a freelance writer.