Detroit Mower Gang: These volunteers compete to maintain city’s old parks | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 12, 2024

As small budgets and bureaucracy leave playgrounds and parks uncared for in Detroit, a group of twenty-five volunteers known as the Detroit Mower Gang is taking matters into their own hands.

This past weekend, volunteer lawnmowers competed for a championship belt awarded to the person who cuts the most grass during their 12-hour Motown Mowdown. They kicked off at Hammerberg Playfield, an un-owned park on Detroit’s west side, tackling the overgrown lawn, repairing swingsets for the Barton-McFarland neighborhood before splitting up to cleanup 10 other abandoned playgrounds in the city.

“No one owns this particular park, it just fell through the cracks,” said Tom Nardone, 50, of Birmingham, who started the Detroit Mower Gang in 2009. “We just try to keep it alive. … Without a group, you couldn’t mow this park with a mower in a couple of days.”

A decade ago, Nardone bought a lawn tractor off Craigslist and took it to a park on Interstate 75 and Eight Mile Road. He started a Facebook group to find others who could join the project and eventually, it turned into a mower gang, he said. “When the city was getting close to filing for bankruptcy there were more than 300 parks in Detroit and the city said it could only care for like 72,” said Nardone.

Last year, the founders formed a nonprofit called Enemies of Debris and also host trash fishing, where the same group pulls trash out of the Detroit River. The group said there have been fewer lots scouted each year because the city is catching up to them. “We hope they put us out of business,” Nardone said laughing. “We could start a bowling league or something.”

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