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updated: 3/28/2011 4:34 PM

Spring Spruce-up: Clean parks and community pride

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The crowd had gathered well in advance, and it was one energized group. Mostly youth, they ranged in age from preschoolers to high-schoolers.

They were hungry, of course, so the juice drinks and granola bars vanished in a blink. But snack time also served as a reminder for why they were there.

"Everybody make sure your wrappers and empty juice boxes find a garbage can," one of the youths announced.

Taking aim at the great expanse of Waubonsie Lake Park, they were ready to make their favorite park just a little bit prettier.

That's the objective every year during Spring Spruce-up, the Fox Valley Park District's premier volunteer event that brings community members together for the common good -- the beautiful parks we all share and enjoy.

This year's event will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 16, at seven different park sites. Volunteers of all ages are welcome to join in for what will be another fun and productive morning outdoors. And, it coincides with Earth Day -- a perfect pairing.

Each volunteer taking part in Spring Spruce-up will be placed at the park site closest to their home and be joined by park district staff. Together, the groups will give their site a makeover involving litter cleanup, raking and various other little tasks to make our neighborhood and community parks shine.

"Spring Spruce-up is a great way to come together with co-workers, family and friends while participating in a 'feel-good' activity," said Debbie Smith, community outreach manager for the park district and the lead organizer for Spring Spruce-up. "It's also a good opportunity for children to learn the value and importance of volunteering, and what a difference it can make."

Begun in 2009, Spring Spruce-up has grown from 225 volunteers to a whopping 600 last year. Scout groups, church groups, students and neighbors have all joined in and given back to their neighborhoods and communities.

"Clean parks are a positive reflection on the residents who live around them," said Smith. "Volunteers who help maintain them gain a sense of ownership and pride."

The seven park sites selected were spaced geographically throughout the district so no volunteer will have to travel far to help make a difference. The sites are:

• Blackberry Trail Park, Griffen Drive and William Drive, Montgomery

• Eola Community Center grounds, 555 S. Eola Road, Aurora

• Gilman Trail/Blackberry Farm, 100 S. Barnes Road, Aurora

• Indian Trail Mini Park, Indian Trail and High Street, Aurora

• North Aurora Island Park, State Street bridge, North Aurora

• O'Donnell Park/Prairie Path, 1640 Reckinger Road, Aurora

Three hours or less on a Saturday morning -- a veritable party in the park -- will make a big difference with lasting effects that go well beyond a simple cleanup.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Interested volunteers can contact Debbie Smith at (630) 966-4555 to register for Spring Spruce-up.