Before the work began, the land was strewn with trash and blackberry bushes. (Kimberly Kelley)

Before the work began, the land was strewn with trash and blackberry bushes. (Kimberly Kelley)

A new beginning for a neighborhood park in Everett

Neighbors banded together to reclaim South Forest Park, removing truckloads of trash.

EVERETT —A South Forest Park neighborhood playground is getting a new start.

Johnny Wickerling lived in his house in central Everett, near Evergreen Way, for a decade before learning he and 97 other nearby homeowners shared ownership of about an acre of green space.

It was a leftover, undevelopable piece of land deeded to the community when the neighborhood was formed back in the 1950s, Wickerling said. Longtime residents have said that space behind Gianni’s Ristorante Italiano was once a playground.

The land, overgrown with blackberry bushes and other vegetation, strewn with decades worth of trash and a few tents, was unusable. A few people had been living in the spot.

With hopes that it would once again become a play area, or a place to gather for barbecues, Wickerling turned to his neighbors.

That first Saturday five adults and two kids spent nine hours picking up trash, said Kimberly Kelley, who lives nearby.

She was out there with her husband and two kids, ages 10 and 12.

Marie Grady pitches in to reclaim a neighborhood park in the South Forest Park area. (Kimberly Kelley)

Marie Grady pitches in to reclaim a neighborhood park in the South Forest Park area. (Kimberly Kelley)

“It was overwhelming,” Kelley said. “There was trash upon trash upon trash.”

In all, the group has spent three Saturdays cleaning up the area, filling two dumpsters with garbage and another of yard waste.

Kelley’s husband Jason Kelley borrowed an excavator from his work, Pape, to remove large pieces of garbage and clear vegetation.

Others who were unable to help with the physical work brought the group lunch one of the work days.

“They were pitching in in their own way,” Kelley said. “It’s bringing neighbors together.”

Kelley, who moved into the community late last year, said if it weren’t for this project she and her husband would never have met Wickerling, or his girlfriend Marie Grady, another volunteer. Now the group seems like old friends.

Marie Grady (left to right), Johnny Wickerling, Kimberly Kelley and Jason Kelley, helped clean up a neighborhood playground in the South Forest Park area. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Marie Grady (left to right), Johnny Wickerling, Kimberly Kelley and Jason Kelley, helped clean up a neighborhood playground in the South Forest Park area. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Local business donated to the cause. Ace Hardware gave the trash bags, while Rubatino Refuse Removal and Cedar Grove hauled off the garbage and yard waste for free. And Robert Jefferies Logging and Tree Service trimmed some trees so the large dumpsters could be brought in.

Next, the plan is to look for grants to finish the project and add some green back to the land.

“It seems we’ve come so far, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kelley said.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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