Keeping Austin clean

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The scene at Cornerstone Assembly of God Church was noisy.

Teens and young children, plus adults, were taking a break from Saturday’s massive cleanup project in Austin.

The church served lunch: pizzas or Piggy Blues barbecue and cold drinks.

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The Earth Beat youth organization sent its members, elementary age children as well as teens, to six different project areas where Spruce Up Austin, Inc. adults supervised their work.

Mulching trees planted by SUA, Inc., pruning branches and performing other beautification duties in all of the city’s parks was the goal.

Mike Page, an Austin High School senior, was among the teens taking a break from their work on a warm Indian Summer’s Saturday.

Page pushed a wheelbarrow — a very large wheelbarrow, he said — full of mulch to Earth Beat crew members applying it around trees.

He didn’t complain.

“It’s good getting out there and helping the community,” Page said. “We’re having a lot of fun, while we’re doing it, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Savannah Meyer, an AHS junior, agreed. She worked at the Mill pond, where Page pushed a wheelbarrow, putting mulch around trees that dot Horace Austin Park and line the Mill Pond Pathway. “It wasn’t hard work,” she said. “We had a lot of people and it was fun.”

The Earth Beat volunteers started early Saturday morning and didn’t finish their work until late in the afternoon.

Mike Ruzek, SUA, Inc.s project leader, gave the volunteers a perfect grade. “Definitely, an A-plus,” he said. “They worked so hard. Ninety-five percent of our goals were accomplished.”

Ruzek credited a collaboration between Cornerstone Assembly of God Church, SUA, Inc. and the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department with the success of the largest one-day maintenance and cleanup effort in the city.

The city was divided into six areas. All 29 city parks, the flood plain area and other public properties were included.

Ruzek registered 78 volunteers: 50 Earth Beat youths and 15 adult supervisors and 13 SUA, Inc. board members.

“They put plastic tile around 330 youth trees to protect them from damage during mowing,” Ruzek said. “They also mulched more than 500 trees.”

The city’s PRF department cut the plastic tile and placed mulch piles at strategic locations.

The Horace Austin Park Mill Pond area, around which SUA, Inc., has planted the largest number of trees, wasn’t done until 2:30 p.m. Saturday while the other mulch projects ended at mid-day.

Seven pickup trucks and two ATV “Gators” were needed.

“The kids were amazing,” Ruzek said, “At Austin Community Bandshell Park, they weeded around the entire Veterans Pavilion.”

At East Side Lake Park, Ryan Corey was one of the Cornerstone adult leaders, supervising the Earth Beat volunteers.

Corey and his wife, Amanda, have a 3-year-old daughter, and he works at the Hormel Foods Corporation corporate offices in Austin. The Coreys are members of the Cornerstone church.

“It’s good to do this for the community and help the environment, while also helping Spruce Up Austin clean up the city and give the Earth Beat kids a chance to help out, too,” Corey said. “It benefits our group as well, because we raise funds through this for our youth ministries.”

Cory Goetz, Cornerstone’s youth pastor, put together the Saturday project with SUA, Inc.’s Ruzek.

At mid-day, Goetz took a break for lunch with the Earth Beat volunteers.

He plotted an agenda that showed just how massive the Saturday work would be.

“After we finish the Spruce Up work, we’re going to walk the hiking paths all the way through town, making sure their clean, and pick up trash,” he said. “We’ve got a stretch of Highway 105 South, our Adopt a Highway Project, to clean up.”

“We’ve got some vacant lots to clean up and then we will head out to the Hormel Nature Center and then we hit Wescott Athletic Field, Austin High School and Ellis Middle School,”

‘We’ll finish up today,” Goetz predicted.

Before embarking on the second half of the ambitious community betterment project, Goetz was asked, “What is the message here?”

“I hope this encourages others to get out and do something in the community; something outside of themselves,” he said.

“One of the things we work on with Earth Beat is to take the focus off ourselves and put it on other people and the community. That’s what we hope this will accomplish today.”

Twenty-nine parks later, acres of flood plain, private lots, more than 500 trees mulched and more 300 wrapped in protective tile and who knows how much trash collected left the community a better place whether Earth Beat wants to take the credit or not.