His bright yellow shirt has the words “Power in Prayer” emblazoned on the back, and divine intervention is sometimes what Steve Monnin needs when he patrols the 65 acres of James G. Combs Memorial Park.
The park has become his project, a sort of “If you rebuild this place, then they will come” type of effort.
“This has become a dump site with tires, garbage, weeds, drugs and other problems,” Monnin said. “I used to fish here with my dad when I was a kid and it wasn’t anything like this. I’ve been trying to clean this park up now for the last two months. I haul so many bags of garbage out of here because I just can’t stand to see the place filled with all of this trash.”
After leaving his job with Toyota, Monnin who lives on Annie Lou Drive, figured he could cross B Street and enjoy the comfortable confines of his neighborhood park. Instead, he found an unkempt eyesore.
“This park now is used for drugs, drinking, sex, basically everything except what it is supposed to be used for,” he said. “It is a beautiful park. It just needs all kinds of work.”
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Monnin decided he’d had enough with the park’s condition, so he packed his red truck with tools and decided to try to clean things up.
“This place does have potential. I cleared out brush up there on the hill by B Street where all the dope heads hang out and that helped clear them out and give people a better view of the park,” he said.
Inside his truck this week were two plastic bottles filled with some of the fruits of his clean-up efforts — heroin needles and burnt spoons. He said he often finds the drug tools hidden in tree stumps.
“The drug users hide them there so they don’t get caught carrying them around … they just come back later and get them when they are ready to use their drugs,” Monnin said. “But I must be doing a good job because I haven’t found as many of these (needles and spoons) out here as I usually do — a lot less in the last two weeks.”
The park is part of the Miami Conservancy District. Steve Timmer, director of the Hamilton Parks Conservancy, along with Mayor Patrick Moeller and City Manager Joshua Smith are aware the park needs a tune-up.
“A meeting at the park is scheduled in October between the Miami Conservancy District, Hamilton Parks Conservancy, and the Public Works Department of the city to discuss maintenance and future plans,” Chief of Staff Brandon Saurber said, regarding the city’s effort to develop a plan to manage the park.
Finding a way to get more boaters and fisherman to the area is a challenge when the Conservancy might not have the resources available to fix the park up and that will be an item up for discussion during that October meeting.
In the meantime, law enforcement has stepped up its patrol of the area, according to city officials, and that, along with the October meeting is welcome news to Monnin.
“Look, I know things aren’t just happening here, things do happen in other parks too,” he said. “But this park deserves a chance. It is part of the city and can be something again.”
Monnin understands that money talks when it comes to making a restoration project successful and with the city’s blessing he has used his own funds to clean-up the park — including a $170 paint job for a shelter that contains a handicapped accessible restroom.
The park is also a makeshift homeless shelter for a handful of people, including one man named Tony.
“I’m okay out here and I do have somewhere I can stay … I’m not out here all the time,” Tony said last week while organizing remnants of his sleeping area from the previous night. “My biggest worries are the raccoons out here. But I do see people doing drugs.”
Other drifters in the area were not as open with sharing their story, but the tents and sleeping bags — some of them that have been left for weeks — gives Monnin pause to think about what he sees as a brighter future for the Combs Memorial Park.
“We want to build shelters, fishing area, put playground equipment in,” he said. “I know the city has talked about making some of this area a primitive campground. The Boys Scouts of America would love this park. The challenge is to clean things up. This is a very nice location to hike, fish or go boating. It should be a family place and safe for the kids.”