The Park of the Canals in west Mesa used to be a place where families gathered to barbecue and Boy Scouts came to earn merit badges and roast marshmallows, says lifelong Mesan Dilworth Brinton Jr.
But the 34-acre park at 1710 N. Horne, which has historic Hohokam ruins, became a hangout for drug dealers and vandals after the city removed nearly all the playground equipment and the number of families using the park declined, nearby residents said at a picnic in an effort torevitalize the park Saturday.
"When I moved into the neighborhood two years ago, I took my family to the playground and all I found was an empty expanse of sand," Bert Millett said. "Nothing is more attractive to criminals than an empty park."
Neighbors and community organizers gathered at the park for a "take a peek" picnic, where local residents could reacquaint themselves with the park and find out about efforts to restore it as a family-friendly environment.
The original wood playground equipment was removed in 2005, said Melanie Dykstra of the city Parks and Recreation Department. After 17 years, she said, it had become a safety concern but the city didn't have money to replace it.
The result, Millet said, was that families stopped using the park.
The park's compass trail, originally installed by Boy Scouts, had gone unused for years, said Clifford Ray, scoutmaster for Troop 798. Several members of the troop attended the event and were working to restore the trail which had been covered up with dirt.
Plans to revitalize the park start with rebuilding the playground, said Pam Cohen of the Mesa West Rotary. Cohen and her group cooked hot dogs at the picnic.
The Rotary joined with local residents and the Foundation for Mesa Parks and Recreation in the effort to raise $100,000 needed to replace the playground equipment.
The Rotary also is working to receive a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation that would allow seniors to get training and become park ambassadors.
Through the grant, young students would visit the park and learn from ambassadors about the historical, environmental and cultural lessons from the surroundings.
The Park of the Canals is on the National Register of Historic Places and features historic Hohokam ruins. It also is the home of the Brinton Desert Botanical Gardens, featuring varieties of local and exotic desert plants.
"My father and the Brinton family raised the money to buy this land and donate it to the city so it would be preserved," said Brinton, who was on hand to give tours of the gardens. "We want this park to be used, taken care of and appreciated."