Belen parks in need of help

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Now that spring has arrived, more people are out in the city parks enjoying time with family and friends.

The city of Belen was forced to all but eliminate its parks department staff after it went into fiscal emergency four years ago. Even though the budget crisis has stabilized, the parks are still in need of help.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Calvary Chapel Academy fifth-grader Wyatt Yates, 12, helps clean up trash at Eagle Park in Belen. Students, staff and teachers spent part of their spring break last week picking up garbage at the city’s largest park.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova recently updated the city council about the state of the different parks in the city. He said when the budget crisis occurred four years ago, the city had to lay off employees, including all but one from the parks department.

“Since then, that one employee has retired, so we virtually don’t have a parks department,” Cordova said. “Not having a parks department, we really don’t have anyone taking care of our parks.”

Since the retirement of the only parks employee, Cordova said one of the street department employees, who works full-time at Eagle Park, has helped when he could.

When the layoffs occurred, the city implemented an Adopt-a-Park program, in which citizens would volunteer their time and effort to maintain the different parks within the city of Belen.

“Some were more successful than others,” Cordova said of the volunteer program. “Some of them were not successful because some of our parks were not adopted or were not consistently being taken care of.”

Because of his concerns over the lack of upkeep of city’s parks, the mayor recently took a tour of properties.

Eagle Park, which sits on 40 acres, is home to soccer fields, basket ball and tennis courts, a gazebo and the community center.

“This park is our premier park, with the best conditions,” Cordova said. “We do have minor problems there, such as the grass needs a little help and it needs to be reseeded.”

While Eagle Park is in pretty good shape, the mayor said the skate park at the same site is in great need of attention. He said some of the equipment is very pricey to replace and there is also a need for fencing to protect the equipment.

While Vivian Fields is owned the city, it leases it out to Belen Little League, who has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the fields and the property.

Jaime Diaz, president of Belen Little League, thanked the council for the use of the property and said they have added a lot of new features to the park this year.

“Through the wonderful partnerships we’ve developed, we’ve added a new tee ball park,” Diaz said. “We had a 40 percent increase in registration this year with more than 300 children participating.”

Diaz also touted that Valley Fence donated new fencing around the entire park and a lot of work has gone into the fields, such as additional infield dirt.

Cordova said that Anna Becker Park, located in the center of Belen, has suffered the most of all parks due to the influx of crime and drugs in the neighborhood.

“The police department has stepped up patrols, but it continues,” Cordova said of the park that has never been properly adopted by volunteers. “It’s been a tough one. The gazebo is in great need of attention and the sand volleyball pit needs sand. It really is in need of general landscaping, signage and lighting.”

Jose Gallegos Park, in old town, Cordova says, is in pretty good shape other than it needs new fencing.

“(The fencing) is not only bad, but it’s dangerous,” the mayor said. “There are also parking needs. Nearby families have been taking good care of the park.”

One of the less popular parks is at 10th Street and Ross, which is cared for by volunteers with the RSVP. While the volunteers have been doing a good job maintaining the area, Cordova said there are a couple of big problems, such as a need for a new canopy and a new gate.

“It is being cared for, but we can make it better,” the mayor said.

Rosedale Park, on the north end of town, has suffered from graffiti, which has been a problem for a number of years. This park, according to the mayor, doesn’t have swings on the swing set and the fence needs repairs.

Cordova said the city’s Welcome Park is small and easy to take care of, but cited that weeds pop up when it rains.

The city’s newest park, the Corazon de Belen Garden Park, a community garden located on the corner of Sixth Street and Dalies, was adopted in 2010 by volunteers, including Dubra Karnes-Padilla, who lives next door to the park.

The community garden, Karnes-Padilla said, was a way to revitalize the community and downtown Belen. The mission of the park, she said, is not only to build the community through the park, but also to provide food and beauty for the city.

The park started off small, but in the years since its inception, it has grown, with the help of grants, to multiple garden boxes. The volunteers are also planning on erecting a fence, a lending library and a potting shed.

“We’ve had no vandalism; maybe one tomato,” Karnes-Padilla said. “When you make things beautiful, the community will take care of them.”

Applications for the Adopt-A-Park program can be picked up at city hall in the office of Deputy Clerk Leona Vigil. For information, call 966-2740.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.