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Volunteers with Bring Back the Boulevard pick up trash, debris in celebration of Earth Day



TOPEKA, Kan. – About a dozen people involved in Topeka’s “Bring Back the Boulevard” group gathered in Gwendolyn Brooks Park early Thursday to clean up litter along S.W. Topeka Boulevard.

Cleanup efforts stretched from the park to the S.W. Topeka Boulevard, S.E. 45th Street intersection, as volunteers picked up trash and debris in honor of Earth Day and the group’s ongoing boulevard revitalization efforts.

“It’s just consistent with the whole theme of the project to improve this area,” said Kent Lammers, who organized Thursday’s volunteer initiative. “We thought Earth Day was a great day to show support of that concept and get people out here.”

Volunteers worked for a couple hours that morning picking up trash and debris. Some made their way through Gwendolyn Brooks Park with trash bags, while others focused on the area around the train bridge overpass near S.E. 45th Street.

Emcon Inc., KBS Constructors Inc. and the city of Topeka each donated equipment, including vehicles and vests, for volunteers to use.

Topeka City Council member Mike Padilla, whose district includes that stretch of the boulevard, helped with the cleanup effort. He said it was an example of the type of action community members can take on their own, or with neighbors, to make their city a more attractive place.

“Working with this group, Bring Back the Boulevard, we’ve identified a lot of areas and things that need to be done,” he said. “Some of them can be done with just manpower. You don’t need money. You don’t need a lot of organization. You just need somebody willing to put it together.”

As he picked up trash near a park ditch, Padilla noted that positive actions in one area of the city may spill over into nearby neighborhoods and added that Earth Day was the perfect occasion to place an emphasis on local, usable green spaces.

“Everything else around us requires our attention,” he said. “I think it’s important that we all find that spot in our neighborhood that we can make a difference in.”

Lynn Hultquist, with the Topeka Beautification Association, also volunteered Thursday. He said that association is trying to build its number of members back up to tackle projects throughout the city. And he is hopeful cleanup efforts along the boulevard, including the Earth Day project, will encourage more locals to volunteer their time and resources.

“We want these ongoing jobs to do and advertise so people will come out and help us,” he said.

Hultquist noted that Bring Back the Boulevard has brought into focus some smaller cleanup efforts that have been underway for years. The momentum and clout of the boulevard group, he said, could make a big difference.

“This group is kind of a springboard into something greater,” Hultquist said.

And Lammers agreed.

“We want this to catch on throughout the community,” he said. “We’re not doing this to displace any other improvements. We’re wanting to trigger other improvements.”