What do you get when you mix summery weather with pandemic restrictions banning backyard barbecues and at-home hangouts?

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This article was published 18/5/2021 (248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What do you get when you mix summery weather with pandemic restrictions banning backyard barbecues and at-home hangouts?

Busy public parks.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Overflowing garbage at Munson Park off Wellington Crescent Sunday, May 16, 2021. </p>

SUPPLIED

Overflowing garbage at Munson Park off Wellington Crescent Sunday, May 16, 2021.

And with increased use of public green spaces, there have been complaints about overflowing garbage in park bins drawing pests and producing foul smells in the heat.

Penny Maletic, who has been going to parks in St. Vital and Fort Garry, said the buildup of litter in recent weeks has been "very sad to see."

"The trash bins — the big, heavy cement ones and the regular garbage cans — are just overflowing," she said Tuesday, noting disposable masks and picnic remains are scattered on the ground, as well.

"It’s just pretty disgusting."

While the city says workers are staying on top of the trash, there's no room in the budget to add new bins, and it's unclear how many people are assigned to tackle the waste.

"Our parks are being loved like they’ve never been loved before," said Waverley West councillor Janice Lukes. "My concern is how the park staff is keeping up with the usage."

A report from the city's parks and open space manager Dave Domke indicated an increase in usage of between 50 and 90 per cent last year compared to 2019 numbers. Regional parks such as St. Vital, Kildonan and Crescent Drive saw big spikes, and La Barriere, just south of the city, experienced a 90 per cent jump.

"When there’s such an increase in usage it’s more challenging to do service delivery," Lukes said.

With city recreation centres closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Lukes is hoping to see staff redeployed to cover the increased maintenance needs at parks. Beyond trash cleanup, Lukes said staff can help maintain public safety by maintaining pathways, trimming tree branches and increasing washroom cleaning.

That would appear to be the case; a city spokesperson told the Free Press in an email Tuesday that staff impacted by the closure of recreation and leisure facilities are "being offered temporary redeployment opportunities."

Some will go to the community service ambassador program — keeping parks in line with COVID-19 restrictions — but others will be "temporarily reassigned" to assist the public works department with litter cleanup and general maintenance.

The city said it anticipates staff will be redeployed in the coming days. In the meantime, "crews are being extra attentive and doing additional trash pick-ups as required at locations with the heaviest usage," the email said.

Lukes has also submitted a motion to the parks committee to take a look at garbage-container use in parks to determine whether adding new bins or moving existing ones could improve the situation.

The city, so far, has declined to add new bins in public parks, saying there is "limited funding in the operating budget," according to the public works website page.

Lukes said she understands budget constraints, but is hopeful the spike in usage this year could bring attention to the city's parks. A renewed focus on active transportation has pushed the need for open streets, and now a focus on park usage could spur improvements to green-space maintenance, she suggested.

"There are silver linings to this pandemic and one of them is really realizing the significance of green space and the important role it plays in people’s physical and mental well-being," she said.

"I’d like to look at more innovative ways to address it. Maybe it doesn’t have to increase the budget but maybe there are more innovative ways, maybe there are things we could be doing better."

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
Reporter

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.