‘Beautify your own neck of the woods’

August 10, 2018

When Chris Miller noticed his neighborhood parks were starting to look a little shaggy last summer, he used his own tools and time to help clean them up.

“The difference between a jungle and a garden is a caretaker,” Miller said.

A weekend of work turned into weeks and hours of volunteer labor. Now Miller has established a Citizen Caretaker Corps. Volunteers, and some people who need community service hours, help him tidy up public areas.

Miller focuses on his neighborhood and nearby parks on the city’s north side. He hopes to recruit others to do the same in their neighborhoods.

“Find a way to beautify your own neck of the woods,” he said.

Miller and other corps volunteers pick up litter and remove weeds from planters, sidewalks, curbs and tree boxes. They clear brush encroaching on public space and prune low branches off tree trunks.

“I don’t like those sticking off the trunk like that anymore than the hair that grows on the back of your neck,” Miller said.

“My territory is starting to look ’kept’,” he said. “That’s the reward — no plaque, sign, paycheck nor even an ‘attaboy.’”

He stresses he only does maintenance — not landscaping or meticulous weeding.

“If I start pulling up dandelions, I’ll be here all day,” he said.

Any weeds growing along the curb are in Miller’s crosshairs.

Jake Otto, a corps member and Rochester Community and Technical College student, helped Miller Wednesday outside the former Think Bank that is now the north police station.

“What you really notice is the curbs,” Otto said. “(Weeds) really make them look unkempt.”

City Parks and Recreation officials welcome Miller’s contributions. Much of his work picks up where limited city resources leave off, said Mike Nigbur, head of the Park and Forestry Division.

“We can do the basics,” Nigbur said. “We just don’t have the staff or the resources to get everything done.”

Sometimes, Miller coordinates with the city. This spring, Miller wanted to weed areas around some evergreen trees north of Hudson Field. City workers helped by trimming low branches on the trees in April.

“This is pretty clean here,” Miller said. “It’s going to be even easier to get in there next spring.”

Miller provides his own equipment and gear. He goes through a spool of weed trimmer line a week, he said. He is looking to expand the corps with either more volunteers, tools or funding.

“I’m convinced there’s someone like me in every neighborhood who has the passion and the time,” Miller said.

“There are a lot of ways to be a good citizen,” he added.

Anyone interested in helping Miller or interested in starting an initiative of their own can contact him at 216-8033 or contact the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department.

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