Volunteers mobilize to beautify Riverfront Park Thursday

Published 7:54 am Friday, April 12, 2019

NILES — Despite the cold, blustery weather and the long day ahead, students at Cedar Lane Alternative Education seemed to be having nothing but fun as they worked Thursday morning in Riverfront Park.

Ty Wade, Shayla Reedus, Santonio Williams, and Tavon Murphy laughed and sang as they raked up mounds of fallen leaves and trash accumulated at Riverfront Park for an annual Impact Day of Service.

“Not only are we helping our school, but we are also helping our community one rake at a time,” Wade said.

The spring cleaning has become a yearly tradition, thanks to employees from IGS Energy.

Tom Payne, event coordinator and IGS employee, said the national company hosts an Impact Day of Service every year, which encourages each branch across the country to take on a local project.

For Payne, beautifying the park where he rides his bike, walks his dog and enjoys views of the St. Joseph River just made sense.

“It’s a centerpiece of Niles,” Payne said. “It’s safe, clean and just really a beautiful park to enjoy the outdoors. We are trying to keep it that way.”

The cleanup started four years ago with Payne and two other IGS employees. For the following year’s project, Payne asked other businesses if they wanted to be involved — growing the number of volunteers and the outreach that the project had.

On Thursday, roughly 10 different organizations took part in helping with the cleanup, including multiple companies, students and two members of the Niles city council. They worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to clear overgrowth, pick up trash, brush and leaves across the park — from the south side boat dock to the railroad bridge.

This year, Payne said volunteers also did some fine-tuning, like clipping grass around the sidewalk, weeding and spending more time polishing the area near the Veteran’s Memorial.

“I think this year, it’s going to be more visible than the year before,” Payne said.

As early as 9 a.m., Payne said he had already received feedback about their work in progress. He noted several walkers and stopped to thank volunteers.

“The community, I think, really appreciates it,” Payne said.

City council member Jessica Nelson and fellow volunteers Kelly Gallant, of Buchanan, and Charlie Spilman, of Niles, helped to rake and bag leaves near the bank of the river.

“The park is a great community resource. Without support, it’s not going to remain that way,” Spilman said.

As a city council member, Nelson said the work made her think about possible things to note at the next city meeting, like discussing the potential to add more trash cans along the walkway. City council member Travis Timm was also among the volunteers.

Richard Hughey, a language arts teacher at Cedar Lane, said 40 students and five faculty members volunteered. He credited Angelecque Thornton, the social studies teacher, for getting students involved. This year marked the third that students had participated and the largest number of volunteers from the school yet.

“The kids find value in helping their community,” Hughey said. “It’s a lesson we can’t exactly teach in the classroom that we have to get out of our school. This affords us the opportunity to do that.”

The next time people enjoy a walk in Riverfront Park or take their children to the playground, Hughey said he hopes they notice an improvement.

“We are trying to beautify the Riverfront here and make sure we clear the way for new growth and make sure people have a great place to go in the city of Niles,” Hughey said.