Students at The College at Brockport participated in the 2016 Earth Day of Service Saturday, April 30, taking part in the beautification of Maplewood Park in the City of Rochester.
The group of students cleaned trash in the park, first receiving a bit of history about the historic location. George Payne, who founded the Gandhi Earth Keepers International organization and co-founded the Lower Falls Foundation, led the group around the park, providing insight into the park’s past. The park was designed in 1904 by the same man who designed Central Park and Yosemite National Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. Despite the park being such an old fixture, many people don’t know of it, nor do they know it as the location of Kelsey’s Landing, a famous jumping-off point and a last stop for escaping slaves traveling the Underground Railroad. The area also used to house up to 1,500 Senecan Native Americans for part of the year as they fished and hunted near the Genesee River’s bank.
With all of the historically significant events taking place in the same area, Maplewood Park is a unique landmark students were able to experience and beautify. Other parks may have the similar elements of Maplewood Park but never all in one place.
“The Lower Falls Gorge is unlike any other park in America,” Payne said. “In a way it is a microcosm of American history.”
Volunteers were shocked they had never heard or been to Maplewood Park, there was talk of returning and spending time hiking or enjoying the view.
“At the same time that you were in awe, so many at the Brockport campus doesn’t even know about it,” Coordinator of Service and Community Building Richard Harris said.
Freshman and volunteer Kevin Zimmer’s favorite part of the trip was going somewhere he never would have gone otherwise and doing something to better it.
“We go to places I’ve never been to so it gets me out and about,” Zimmer said. “Personally, I feel like I am more involved and making a difference.”
The Earth Day of Service was a part of the larger Rochester Clean Sweep initiative and through the Department of Community Development at the college, brought Brockport students into the city to be a part of the larger organization. They joined around 60 others in picking up trash in the park before travelling across the river and cleaning the other side of the trail. This was also in conjunction with Payne’s Lower Falls Foundation which was founded in January. The foundation sponsors heritage site cleanups in an attempt to make the Lower Falls an internationally recognized World Heritage Site.
“We’re trying to bring people here to beautify the park and at the same time explain to them the cultural and historical significance of the Lower Falls Gorge,” Payne said.
The park combines nature with an urban environment, fusing the present with the past. The park left an impression on those who went to experience it as well as contribute to the beautification of a park which has accumulated a lot of trash.
“Being hands-on with nature really registered with me,” freshman Jordan Soldaczewski said. “I just love the outdoors and being able to beautify it … it feels rewarding.”
Maplewood Park, being very close to the city and a popular part of the area, was full of beer cans, condoms and cigar wrappers.
“I had to challenge myself to help the kids,” junior Kate Cooper said. “What if someone brings their kid there tomorrow and there are condoms on the ground?”
Students filled trash bags with the litter, significantly cleaning up the fences, trees and trails.
“It was a way for the college to honor and raise awareness in appreciation of Earth Day and the natural surrounding environment in the city of Rochester,” Harris said. “[The best part was] to see how students reacted to the physical environment and the content of dialogue within conversations about preservation efforts.”