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ETC. Photo of the day by Sara Rubin. Neighbors Bill Hyman, Carol Mikkelsen and Vicki Briesacker (left to right) gather on Friday mornings to water plants and do maintenance at Highland Otis Park in Seaside. Mikkelsen formed the nonprofit that evolved into Friends of Seaside Parks (FOSPA) 11 years ago, when this park was just a patch of weeds and debris. Hyman regularly walks the park with his dog, Gigi, gathering litter. Photographed with an iPhone 6. Submit your best horizontal photos. (Please include the location where the photo was taken in the caption.)

This effort to continuously improve Seaside’s parks has come a long way since it began 11 years ago.

Good Morning.

Sara Rubin here, in appreciation of my neighbors. Specifically, I’m thinking of three neighbors—Carol Mikkelsen, Bill Hyman and Vicki Briesacker—who every Friday at 10am converge at Highland Otis Park to greet the city water truck. The three of them spend a couple of dedicated hours watering the plants, pulling weeds, collecting litter—doing whatever basic tasks they can to keep the park looking good. 

It does look good these days, but it didn’t always look like a park, at all. When Mikkelsen first moved to the neighborhood in 2004, she says the plot was a debris patch with sand, weeds, and broken concrete. A historic cannon, provenance unknown, was tossed to the bottom of the hill. It seemed like a wasted piece of prime real estate with ocean views, a magnet for vandalism, and Mikkelsen regularly saw drug deals happening there. 

She remembers asking one kid if he would help her stop vandalism, if he saw anyone defacing signs near the park. His response: “This doesn’t look like a park.” She agreed. And she decided to do something about it. 

Mikkelson decided to invite neighbors to get together. She walked the neighborhood with flyers inviting strangers to join her in a cleanup in 2010. She feared no one would come. But at their first gathering, 37 people showed up. From there, she says, “it just evolved.” Mikkelsen formed a nonprofit, then called the Highland Otis Neighborhood Association, and got busy applying for grants. 

Grant funds came in, and the group used volunteer hours and connections to get things done. They got play structures, and families with kids started using the park. They installed a patio area with picnic tables and grills, and people started hanging out. They installed planter boxes for community herbs and planted and mulched various segments of the park, beautifying the hilltop parcel. The shop class at Seaside High School refurbished the cannon and returned it painted jet black and crimson—school colors. 

The work at Highland Otis Park is far from done. The trio wants to install exercise equipment, and they want to commission an artist to paint a cracking wooden post with imagery that represents Seaside’s multicultural past and present—like a totem pole of local history. 

And the broader mission to improve Seaside’s parks, including its tiniest pocket parks, continues too. A few years back, Mikkelson changed the scope of the nonprofit and its name to encompass that. Today, Friends of Seaside Parks (FOSPA) is a group of volunteers who have taken on the mission of keeping these green spaces watered, maintained, useful and beautiful. It’s a mission that I am grateful for, because I use these parks for sunset viewing, a workout once in a while and an easily accessible bit of open space. I volunteer only occasionally, but then I am immediately welcomed by a warm group of committed residents who bring energy and muscle to the mission. 

Mikkelsen says it’s largely a younger generation that is stepping in, a positive trend: “I am trying to step back and let all that energy take over.” (One bonus of that youthful energy, Briesacker adds, is an emphasis on native plants and pollinator-friendly species. For more on that, check out this recent feature story by David Schmalz.) 

These days, FOSPA organizes cleanups every Saturday from 10am-noon at a different Seaside park each week, combining volunteer resources to hit them all. (Today, they’ll be at Farallones, between Flores and Harding just north of Hilby Avenue.) To learn more about volunteer opportunities, email Mikkelsen at carolmikks@gmail.com.

Or just show up and hang out in a park. Seeing people playing, grilling or just sitting and soaking up some sun is Mikkelsen’s goal. “That’s what keeps us going, is this park being used,” she says. 

-Sara Rubin, editor, sara@mcweekly.com 

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