2017-07-06 / Front Page

Clifford graffiti doesn’t get ‘Friends’ down

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Aline Potvin works to remove spray paint from a rock in Clifford Park along with other volunteers Friday, June 30. Names and derogatory words were painted on several rocks throughout the park. It is not the first incident of vandalism in Clifford Park. (Courtesy photo) Aline Potvin works to remove spray paint from a rock in Clifford Park along with other volunteers Friday, June 30. Names and derogatory words were painted on several rocks throughout the park. It is not the first incident of vandalism in Clifford Park. (Courtesy photo) BIDDEFORD – Clifford Park has been dealt another setback but residents are far from giving up on the 140-acre forest set just minutes from downtown.

Biddeford resident Catherine Glynn is a full-time history student at the University of Southern Maine and a Historic New England Museum interpreter. She started Friends of Clifford Park with Biddeford native Katie Labbe in 2016 under the city’s adopt-a-park program and with the help of Heart of Biddeford, a quasi-municipal nonprofit that promotes downtown Biddeford. She said she started the organization to help keep Clifford Park clean and promote recreation within it.


Catherine Glynn, a Biddeford resident and co-founder of the Friends of Clifford Park, in front of one of many spray painted rocks in Clifford Park. Her group promotes respect for nature and outdoor activities. Friends of Clifford Park will host yoga Monday, July 10 and a mindfulness walk Saturday, Aug. 12. More information is available on the Friends of Clifford Park Facebook page. (Grant McPherson photo) Catherine Glynn, a Biddeford resident and co-founder of the Friends of Clifford Park, in front of one of many spray painted rocks in Clifford Park. Her group promotes respect for nature and outdoor activities. Friends of Clifford Park will host yoga Monday, July 10 and a mindfulness walk Saturday, Aug. 12. More information is available on the Friends of Clifford Park Facebook page. (Grant McPherson photo) “People are interested in the park. It’s beautiful out there,” Glynn said. “Our goal is just to support that and help the recreation department with their goals.”

Within the last two weeks, boulders and rocks throughout Clifford Park have been spray painted with people’s names and derogatory words. Glynn said it was painful to see the latest round of careless acts in the park. She said it has faced problems with fire pits and litter in the past, but the spray paint was unallowable.

“It crossed a line from just annoyance and being unattractive to being hateful and hurtful,” Glynn said. “It has to go.”

Glynn planned to organize a group of people to start removing the spray paint Friday, June 30.

Another Biddeford resident, Lisa Pixley, planned to help Glynn remove the spray paint from the rocks on Friday. Pixley said Caleb Johnson Architects and Builders planned to donate a few hundred dollars to help purchase spray paint remover.

Pixley said she moved to Biddeford from Portland about seven months ago and wished she had known about Clifford Park sooner. She said the park became a reason why she and her husband decided to move to Biddeford. Pixley said she is sensitive to the fact that she is new in the area but couldn’t help feeling angry when she walked through the park and saw the spray paint.

“It’s not graffiti, it’s not tagging,” Pixley said. “A public park has been vandalized.”

Pixley said the defacing felt like a cry for help. She said she’s worried about the people named and whether they could be victims of bullying.

“It’s so childish, it’s the meanest things possible to say,” Pixley said.

Pixley said she’s lived in southern Maine for 20 years and hasn’t found anything like Clifford Park in an urban area. She said she began walking in the park every morning in the winter no matter the weather. Pixley said being in nature helped her tune into her own thoughts.

“It was surprising how profoundly it hurt to see (the park) damaged and disrespected in that way,” she said.

Glynn said her focus now is what’s best for the park. She said she has found the community responsive and quick to help. Glynn said anyone who wants to help can message her through the Friends of Clifford Park Facebook page. She said the group usually meets once a month during summer. Glynn said she’s planning yoga in the park, history walks and children’s activities. She said a mountain bike race last year was a success and hopes to continue it again in the fall. Glynn said she’s written a grant to purchase posts for a story walk along a section of trails.

“Anyone can be a friend of Clifford Park if you pick up just one piece of trash every time you walk through,” Glynn said.

Pixley said just because the park has had trouble with trash and cleanliness in the past doesn’t mean it has to continue. She said as rent increases in Portland and people realize there is a cheaper alternative in Biddeford, the community is going to have an awkward adjustment and some people may feel disenfranchised. Pixley said as cities and towns become more affluent and begin to change, they have to find a way to make sure no one is left behind.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to get people to believe (Clifford Park) is a special place and take pride in it,” she said.

Glynn said Friends of Clifford Park also wants to highlight the historical significance of the park. She said the group’s first big project was replacing a chain link fence with a Victorian reproduction of a wrought iron gate with hand hammered gold letters. Glynn said the land for Clifford Park was sold to the city by the Clifford family in 1895 for a bargain, and the family’s only stipulations were the land always be a park and always bear their name. Glynn said the park was part of the early playground movement and served as a gathering place to hear music in the 1930s and 1940s. She said Biddeford residents would often meet in the park on Sundays after working in the mills all week.

“The park is even more interesting when you know the history,” Glynn said.

Bill Durkin, chairman of the no longer active Open Space Committee, said spray paint has been an issue in Clifford Park for years, along with burn piles and people camping out. He said the park is difficult to monitor because of its size. Durkin said he likes to call Clifford Park the “Central Park” of Biddeford but the spray paint gives it a bad name.

Durkin helped the city purchase an additional 55 acres to add to Clifford Park from Alfred Boutin in January 2011 with help from Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Durkin said the purchase was part of the city’s efforts to preserve land and wetlands on the property. He said he took it upon himself at the time because few in city administration had experience in land preservation.

“Conserving land costs money,” Durkin said. “The city is going to have to take care of it.”

Glynn said the Biddeford Recreation Department has funding for employees to have a presence in Clifford Park beginning July 1.

Biddeford Recreation Department Director Carl Walsh said while funding has been approved the city is still looking to hire a couple people for the positions. Walsh said anyone interested can contact him directly. He said the positions will likely last 10 to 12 weeks and include weekends keeping the trails in Clifford Park clean and acting as a steward for the grounds.

Pixley said she hopes Clifford Park continues to be a place for people to think and reflect. She said she looks forward to revisiting it in the future.

“I love knowing it will still be there,” Pixley said.

Glynn said with the growth of technology, having a place like Clifford Park for people to breathe in nature is essential. She said she wants people to continue to enjoy being outside in the middle of the city.

“My hope is (the park) can be maintained in its most natural state as possible,” Glynn said.

FMI

Residents wishing to get involved in the preservation of Clifford Park or to learn more about activities can contact Catherine Glynn through the Friends of Clifford Park Facebook page.

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