Graffiti, clogged toilets and litter: Wilmington residents concerned about park vandalism

Wade Park has seen an uptick in vandalism in recent months. Now, the city of Wilmington is holding a public meeting to get resident feedback on addressing the issue.
Wade Park has seen an uptick in vandalism in recent months. Now, the city of Wilmington is holding a public meeting to get resident feedback on addressing the issue.

In Wilmington's Wade Park, scrawling graffiti, clogged toilets and trash scattered around park garbage cans are signs the vandals have struck again.

Vandalism and litter has been an ongoing issue in the park for years, but neighboring residents have raised the issue with city of Wilmington in recent months and created a Facebook page to document the incidents of vandalism.

Jon Barker started the page in January when he became fed up with repeated incidents of graffiti, vandalism and other behavior he deems inappropriate for a public park. Barker has lived in the area for three years and walks the park's paved half mile loop on a daily basis.

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“I'm there multiple times a day," he said. "I'm walking the track. I'm walking my dog. I'm there with my kids at the playground.”

Sometimes he'll see teenagers riding dirt bikes around the pedestrian path. Other times he's seen people smoking marijuana near the park's playground and explicit graffiti on the park's bathroom building. Barker said he started the social media page as a way for neighbors to connect and discuss issues at the park.

“I wanted some allies because I'm at that park all the time," he said, "And then I found out there's a lot of people that felt the same way.”

Wade Park can be seen Monday Aug. 22, 2022 off Bethal Road in Wilmington, N.C. In recent months,  the park has dealt with vandalism of park facilities, including graffiti on the park's bathroom facilities. The city of Wilmington is now holding an open house Tuesday August 23, 2022 between 4pm and 6pm to let residents to offer input on how to prevent future vandalism in the future. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS
Wade Park can be seen Monday Aug. 22, 2022 off Bethal Road in Wilmington, N.C. In recent months, the park has dealt with vandalism of park facilities, including graffiti on the park's bathroom facilities. The city of Wilmington is now holding an open house Tuesday August 23, 2022 between 4pm and 6pm to let residents to offer input on how to prevent future vandalism in the future. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS

Mark Steelman, another nearby resident, has raised concerns about the amount of time it takes Wilmington's parks and recreation staff to repair what he considers easy-to-fix incidents of vandalism -- like removing traffic cones and rolls of toilet paper that are thrown on the roof of the park's picnic shelter.

“I became aware that easy to fix things were taking an inordinately long time to get fixed,” Steelman said. “Like a roll of toilet paper was up there on the roof for like six or eight weeks.”

Steelman and Barker met with parks and recreation staff in February to discuss vandalism in Wade Park. Following that meeting, the city has responded more quickly to incidents of vandalism in the park, Steelman said.

This week, the neighborhood concerns culminated in a meeting hosted by the city of Wilmington at Wade Park to allow residents to pose solutions to the ongoing problem. The city has also released an online survey to gather resident feedback.

The meeting's main goal was to gather feedback from residents, said Sally Thigpen, the city's assistant director of community services.

“This is an effort to reach out to the public to let them know that we hear them, and we want to work with them collaboratively to find solutions to these concerns,” she said.

Wade Park has seen an uptick in vandalism in recent months. Now, the city of Wilmington is holding a public meeting to get resident feedback on addressing the issue.
Wade Park has seen an uptick in vandalism in recent months. Now, the city of Wilmington is holding a public meeting to get resident feedback on addressing the issue.

Thigpen said repairing vandalism in the park is a priority for the department. Staff are especially concerned with repairing vandalism in park bathrooms and picking up litter on the ground.

Picking up litter is especially important because the marsh at the center of Wade Park functions as a layer of filtration for Hewletts Creek watershed.

"Making sure that we address ground litter as soon as possible to help protect water quality and wildlife and migratory birds that are using that spot is really important,” Thigpen said.

Herman Bolster, a 22-year neighborhood resident, turned out to Tuesday's meeting with the four dogs he walks each morning in Wade Park. Bolster said he gets to the park early and its become his "hobby" to pick up litter near the picnic shelter. Bolster said he hasn't noticed an uptick in vandalism over the last year but thinks the parks department should install a camera at the picnic shelter to deter vandalism and littering.

Wade Park can be seen Monday Aug. 22, 2022 off Bethal Road in Wilmington, N.C. In recent months,  the park has dealt with vandalism of park facilities, including graffiti on the park's bathroom facilities. The city of Wilmington is now holding an open house Tuesday August 23, 2022 between 4pm and 6pm to let residents to offer input on how to prevent future vandalism in the future. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS
Wade Park can be seen Monday Aug. 22, 2022 off Bethal Road in Wilmington, N.C. In recent months, the park has dealt with vandalism of park facilities, including graffiti on the park's bathroom facilities. The city of Wilmington is now holding an open house Tuesday August 23, 2022 between 4pm and 6pm to let residents to offer input on how to prevent future vandalism in the future. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS

Bob and Carol Crate, a couple who have lived in the area for 26 years and walk daily in the park, agree cameras would be a step in the right direction. The two turned out Tuesday to make sure their voices were heard, Bob Crate said.

In recent months, they've noticed regular vandalism in the park's bathrooms, including clogged toilets and broken plumbing. They've also seen explicit graffiti spray painted on the park's concrete spillway.

Carol Crate said the park's neighbors are willing to work with the city to find a solution to the vandalism that's plagued the park.

“The people in the community use this park a lot, and they are willing to help take care of it, you know, partner with the city," she said. "How we do that I don’t know.”

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or edill@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington's Wade Park sees uptick in graffiti, vandalism