Hogans Creek, Confederate Park cleanup a daunting task

Hogans Creek, Confederate Park cleanup a daunting task

Groundwork Jacksonville engages youth for revitalization

Although Confederate Park was the first Jacksonville city park to include a playground, it’s not a place where children can enjoy the outdoors today. Situated along Hogans Creek, the park desperately needs tender loving care.

When garbage was used to fill in Hogans Creek’s marsh areas in preparation for Springfield Park in 1899, and Confederate Park (formerly Dignan Park) in 1907, a veritable toxic-waste bomb was set for an unforeseen future time.

Groundwork_01Residual tar contamination from the industrial age plagues Confederate Park, while overall fecal coliform rates exceeding acceptable counts by 80 percent compound the creek’s pollution problems.

A posted sign admonishes park visitors that touching the water may increase risk of illness, while another warns that fish and shellfish from the area are contaminated and should not be eaten.

Compounding the cleanup issue is an ongoing battle between the City of Jacksonville and property owners. Coal tar contaminates the ground in the area, dumped there over one century ago by a long since defunct coal conversion facility.

At stake: Who is responsible for ash cleanup in the Confederate Park area of Hogans Creek and, more importantly, who will pay?

Defusing the toxic waste areas in Eastside, Springfield, and Hogans Creek will take time and is an expensive and complex issue, noted Dr. Dawn Emerick, Groundwork Jacksonville’s first CEO.

Eventually Groundwork Jacksonville, Groundwork USA’s newest trust, will take on that task, but in the meantime, Groundwork Jacksonville is making positive changes in Jacksonville’s Springfield and Eastside neighborhoods.

The local nonprofit joins Groundwork USA’s mission of neighborhood cleanup and revitalization, with financial support from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service.

Not quick or inexpensive

While Hogans Creek is Groundwork Jacksonville’s charge, Emerick is optimistic that working on other projects in the near term will be beneficial to the communities involved.

Groundwork_03“We’re working on other projects to gain momentum and build trust with the communities. We want to get early signature wins so when we take on Hogans Creek, they can see we can do it,” Emerick assured.

With Emerick at the helm, Groundwork Jacksonville’s long-term vision is remediating brownfields in Eastside and Springfield back into scenic parks and greenways with clean waters for current and future generations to enjoy.

Emerick holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership and social marketing, and is a principal and founder of Impact Partners, which works with private and public entities to directly foster community improvement.

The monumental cleanup and beautification projects on the horizon for Groundwork Jacksonville don’t intimidate Emerick, whose numerous in-the-trenches experiences in community revitalization bolster her positive outlook for Jacksonville’s Urban Core.

“I’m excited,” Emerick said of the Hogans Creek, Eastside, and Springfield work ahead, “I think this is the model. We have a lot of challenges and will implement changes neighborhood by neighborhood while having a strong partnership with the city.”

However, Groundwork Jacksonville efforts are not a quick fix, cautioned Emerick.

“The hardest thing to do is manage expectations. We have to continuously communicate (to the communities) to let them know this is a long process,” she said.

Groundwork Jacksonville’s efforts will have impact outside of the project area. According to Jimmy Orth, executive director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper, their work will benefit everyone who cares for and benefits from the river. “When we improve the water quality of each creek/tributary, regardless of location, we improve the overall health of the St. Johns River,” he said.

“What Groundwork Jacksonville is doing can help serve as a model and catalyst for cleaning up other creeks and tributaries of the St. Johns and getting local residents engaged in that process,” said Orth.

Can-do attitude in force

Groundwork Jacksonville’s “Culture of Do” attitude permeates its activities, and cleanup work has been going on all summer.

Groundwork_04Led by Green Team Coordinator Alyssa Bourgoyne, students ages 13 to 18 kicked off their summer of service activities in June with a day of landscaping throughout Hogans Creek greenway.

Green Team Youth Corps provided students with a stipend during their summer apprenticeship. The youth initiative will keep the community engaged and connect young people back to their communities, Emerick said.

“It’s a chance for Eastside and Springfield youth to understand environmental challenges,” she said. When coupled with Groundwork Jacksonville’s environmental training programs for students, and direct interaction with local businesses and neighborhoods, this could inspire today’s youth to become tomorrow’s environmental leaders, Emerick stated.

Green Team projects address Jacksonville’s deferred maintenance issues, Emerick explained, which occur when money or resources for a park dry up and the area falls into neglect. “That’s doing something, not just planning,” she said.

Green Team’s group of 10 inner-city youth visited National Park Service parks in Jacksonville to provide them a contrast with what good conservation looks like compared to areas where they are working, Emerick said.

These cleanup projects reflect Emerick’s vision to build trust with local communities while showing evidence of early progress. “We are implementers, not a planning organization,” she emphasized.

By Vince Iampietro
Resident Community News

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