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Accessible parks prompt clean local waters

Person walking along Cayuga Waterfront Trail
Community members use the Cayuga Waterfront Trail at Stewart Park all year. (Photo by Maddy Vogel/Ithaca Week)

A small organization called Friends of Stewart Park and hundreds of supporting volunteers come together once every few months to embrace and enhance the natural beauty of Stewart Park and the Cayuga Waterfront Trail.

Rick Manning, executive director of Friends of Stewart Park, founded the organization in 2011 after working with the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce to create the Cayuga Waterfront Trail.

Accessible and Sustainable Resources

Manning said the organization values sustainability and accessibility. He expressed a hope to make the park more sustainable with possible electric heating and other ideas for the future.

Friends of Stewart Park has worked on several projects to revitalize the park in the past. They have updated preexisting resources and buildings, created an accessible and inclusive playground, restrooms, carousel, and are currently working on an accessible splash pad.

outline for an accessable splash pad
Shown above is an outline for the accessable splash pad, coming soon to Stewart Park! (Photo by Maddy Vogel/Ithaca Week)

“We work with partner organizations to try and cleanup the waterfront all along the trail where people are using it,” said Janelle Alvstad-Mattson, communications coordinator for Friends of Stewart Park. “We also have pollinator gardens all along the trail and the trail is now a certified pollinator pathway. We go cleanup and add landscape to make it beautiful but also sustainable for wildlife and biodiversity.”

Volunteer Importance

Because Friends of Stewart Park is such a small organization, the volunteers really make a difference.

Alvstad-Mattson holding a tee shirt that they give volunteers, in preparation for an upcoming event.
Alvstad-Mattson holding a tee shirt that they give volunteers, in preparation for an upcoming event. (Photo by Maddy Vogel/Ithaca Week)

















“We can always find a job for volunteers to do,” said Alvstad-Mattson. “We have really amped up our volunteer efforts. We organize at least three different large-scale volunteer events each year and work with smaller groups of volunteers more often than that.”

The Upcoming Waterfront Cleanup

Although no one quite knows when it began, Friends of Stewart Park is hosting its annual waterfront cleanup event on Saturday, April 8 at 10 a.m. to clean up plastic debris and other waste at the park.

Yayoi Koizumi is a volunteer for Friends of Stewart Park and the founder of Zero Waste Ithaca, an organization that promotes and collaborates with Friends of Stewart Park on events. She plans on attending the waterfront cleanup and thinks it is a crucial aspect of bettering the environment.

“People think that Ithaca is clean and pristine. It’s not true, if you really look, it’s everywhere, in rural areas too,” said Koizumi. “It’s literally covering the whole globe, all of this microplastic debris. There are so many things that shouldn’t be out there in the environment, but they are, and it’s just because of our disposable culture.”

Manning echoed the importance of cleaning up litter in the environment.

“Litter is demoralizing and if you put a lot of work into creating these beautiful facilities you just have to take care of them,” said Manning.

Stewart Park waterfront
The waterfront area where volunteers will clean up litter, debris, and any other harmful materials they may find. (Photo by Maddy Vogel/Ithaca Week)

Friends of Stewart Park values the work that each and every volunteer does to help create a space that everyone loves and is welcomed in, said Alvstad-Mattson.

“When we have a lot of people come out the litter really does take care of itself very quickly,” said Alvstad-Mattson. “When we get 30 to 40 people walking along the water in various groups they fill bags, and we pick them up. It is amazing what a difference it makes. We have had years where it was just a six-foot pile of garbage bags full of waste. Hopefully the more we do it the less and less there will be every year.”

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