With the recent spate of pleasant weather permeating the late-winter calendar, parks across the Northland have been well used. During the last couple of weeks of February, minus the last weekend of the month, the parks across the area were especially busy.

Stocksdale Park in Liberty, Jesse James Park in Kearney and Smithville Lake all have disc golf courses. Talk about seeing crowds. There were some players waiting their turns to pitch those specially-made discs. Avid park-goers across the Clay County were out enjoying the sunshine, riding bikes around trails or watching wildlife trying to make sense of the springlike weather.

Here's one of the biggest conundrums of these outdoor venues: How do you continue to promote park usage, attract visitors and have clean parks? Parks directors often agree that the balancing act is one of the hardest they face. Staff is often dispatched at peak times, but even the past few weeks, the use has surpassed capacity of the trash barrels and other receptacles at more than one park north of the river.

Plus, many parks department personnel are doing off-season maintenance and other work on the parks such as installing new bathrooms or other fixtures, and perhaps some of those construction areas aren't picked up daily.

Most all public spaces are a challenge to keep clean. This time of year, the care and maintenance is different than in nicer weather months. Typically, with fewer visitors and mowing not needed in the winter, department staff can focus more on larger construction projects. Park maintenance has been more focused on adding amenities. Most use doesn't occur in February, and then March can be spotty depending on a sudden spike in the temperature to remind us that spring is around the corner.

In talking with Liberty Parks Director Janet Bartnik, the off-peak period allows teams to make repairs and improve facilities. As an example or two, several park improvements are under way currently, including the addition of a vault toilet at the Liberty Dog Park, replacement of the rest room facility by the Stocksdale Park playground and trails, replacement of the spray ground at Ruth Moore Park, and ball field work at Fountain Bluff.

In peak use months, usually late March through mid-November, Liberty Parks and Recreation staff members are in each park every day of the week. Seasonal employees make it possible to concentrate more thoroughly on daily custodial services like rest room cleaning and litter removal while still making minor repairs and preparing for events and rentals in the parks.

So if the spike in warm weather comes back for March —and weather.com is forecasting highs in the 50s and low 60s for the next few weeks, when citizens are in the parks — think about ways to help out parks crews. First, make every effort to place trash in receptacles. Windy days can blow trash out of the cans if the trash is not near the bottom of the receptacle. Second, if you're walking by trash on the ground, pick it up and place it in the closest receptacle. Third, report anything that is dangerous, broken or in need of attention. The more parks departments know about problems they have not yet seen, the better residents in the Northland will be served.

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