Cliff Drive has been identified as one of the major assets in the Historic Northeast community.
Nestled on the hillside overlooking the East Bottoms, the 4.2 mile boulevard winds through Kessler Park from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the east to Belmont on the west.
A recent video, created by Northeast resident John Bordeau, who lives in Pendleton Heights, highlights the ever-growing trash piles along Cliff Drive.
With over 2,300 views, the video, titled “Cliff Drive is a Landfill” and posted on YouTube, has been getting the attention of many across the city who wonder what can be done to stop the piling of garbage.
Officially designated as a State Scenic Byway in June 2000, one of five at the time, Cliff Drive preserves natural features unique to this portion of the Missouri River Valley, including limestone bluffs, natural vegetation, and wildlife.
Manny Abarca, president of Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, said there is not one solution to this issue.
“I think the broader issue is that we are focusing on the symptoms and not necessarily the ailments,” he said. “We are focusing on how it affects us and our situation and how angry it makes us, but we are not really circling around the full picture as to why it’s happening.”
Abarca said the community has worked for years to address specific issues such as closing the gates to Cliff Drive, debating over the two trash bag limit and over the transient community, but one single issue, he said, is not the problem.
“We have tried to address all these symptoms, but it’s not changing,” he said. “I think we need to think a little bit bigger and try to address homelessness at its root. How do we get the healthcare that they need and get them off the street and get them a livable wage so they can safely go about their business and not be there? How do we work with partners who are fulfilling a need for this homeless community, but who are also arming them with trash that ends up in our parks? How do we make sure and figure out how Solid Waste can be more effective within our communities so that trash isn’t piling up or left and abandoned? These are bigger, broader things that will have more of an effect than just a single, one-ticket solution.”
Abarca said the Indian Mound’s Parks Committee is responsible for determining the priorities of the neighborhood.
Currently, the committee has focused on securing PIAC funds to get speed bumps successfully installed around Indian Mound Park to curb the speeding problem that has plagued many of the residents living along Gladstone Boulevard and Wheeling Avenue.
Abarca said the speeding issue has immediate threats to the neighbors and community, so the committee has focused their efforts there.
”As volunteers, we have a limited amount of time and resources and we have to focus those on areas where we believe are the highest priority,” he said.
One of the things Abarca said he would like to see is more education in discarding waste, which he said is unique in the Northeast due to the immensely diverse languages and cultures that are represented.
“For our community, there are 52 different languages and we have different cultural issues, one of those being discarding of waste,” he said. “I have not seen the city really do a good job trying to educate our diverse communities about the reality of how to discard their waste.”
Leslie Caplan, who served as president of Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood for eight years before stepping down, said she is working with Bordeau and Scott Wagner, director of Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT), to meet with elected officials to discuss potential solutions to this decades-long issue.
“It’s definitely not a new problem,” she said. “I’ve lived in Scarritt for 11 years and worked in the Northeast for over 25 years. It’s not new.”
Caplan said when she became president of Scarritt Renaissance, she was placed on the Cliff Drive Corridor Management Committee, which has since dissolved due to funding.
Neighborhood leaders have continued to work to address the issue, with efforts resulting in only allowing one-way traffic, and closing the drive on certain days.
“Our meetings right now consist of discussing cleanups, volunteers, and trying to figure out what needs to happen, a plan, and a timeline,” Caplan said. “Meeting with elected officials is a piece of that.”
Caplan said the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood’s main issue is the transient community who make the park their home and walk through Scarritt to get in and out of the park.
A solution, she said, is not going to be a quick fix.
“The bottom line is that it is going to take years and years and many dollars,” she said. “The first step is meeting with city officials and helping them understand our side of it, understanding their situation, and finding an answer. This is a long-term problem and it will take a long-term solution.”
John Bordeau, the Northeast resident who created the video, said his goal is increasing awareness and opening up a discussion around the issue.
“The video was not meant to be an attack on the Parks Department,” he said. “I think they have their hands full. I just want to raise awareness.”
Over the last three years, he said he has helped organize, with the assistance of Pendleton Heights neighborhood, about six to eight cleanups.
Last October, a large abandoned camp was discovered around Gate 2 and with the help of dozens of volunteers, two large dumpsters worth of garbage was pulled from the park.
Bordeau said he also recognizes that this is not a new problem and that many people before him have also attempted to solve the issue.
He said he has written recently-elected and previous council members, Mayor James as well as Mayor Lucas, and all the mayoral candidates.
“I had both the mayoral candidates come to my house and walked Jolie Justus down to a camp and then Quinton Lucas came and I walked him down to a camp,” he said, “so I’ve just been trying to get the attention of elected officials about this.
Bordeau has set up a meeting with 3rd District At-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington, who drafted a trash ordinance to help address this issue at City Hall.
“I’ve had a hard time getting anyone on the council to pay attention to me, but he’s been terrific,” he said. “I’m just going to sit down with him and ask what I can do to help him and what he can do to help us.“
Both Bordeau and Caplan said the trashed park can be broken down into three categories: illegal dumping, litter, and the transient community.
Illegal dumping usually consists of trucks offloading sofas, mattresses, construction materials, tires, and other large items.
Litter, Bordeau said, is just an issue of residents not using trash cans and leaving garbage on the ground or tossing it out the window as they drive by.
The transient community, he said, drags in blankets, sleeping bags, shirts, shoes, items charitable organizations give them, and leaves them in the park.
“There are easily probably 20 abandoned camps along Cliff Drive from one end to the other,” Bordeau said.
While the Parks Department has provided new trash cans around the reservoir, Bordeau said they are often not used and trash is still seen strewn along the disc golf course.
”I think a police patrol in that area after dark, once an hour, could help and would deter people who are there drinking and throwing beer bottles on the grass,” he said.
Regarding the transient community, Bordeau said he doesn’t know where to start.
“Obviously, what we are doing isn’t working,” he said. “Everyone in the Northeast says the transient population seems to get bigger every year. I don’t know what to do, but I know we cannot give them a free pass on trashing our parks just because they are down and out or have an addiction problem. I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think we should just say it’s ok because they are struggling. We ought to ask them to abide by the same rules as everyone else.”
Bordeau said because a large percentage of the garbage he helps clean up is household garbage, he would be in favor of removing or raising the two trash bag limit to allow residents to throw more trash out on trash day.
He said he would also like to see it be easier for residents to get rid of large, bulky items.
“It seems like we should make getting rid of bulk items as easy as possible so that it doesn’t end up in our parks,” he said.
Bordeau said he and Caplan will be meeting with city officials including the city manager and members of Parks and Recreation to discuss potential solutions.
“I’m not sure I have some detailed agenda for that except saying here is what the problem is, it’s existed for years, let’s all put our heads together and what can we do that will be easy, what is the low-hanging fruit that would help and then what do we need to figure out long-term.”
While there is no immediate solution, one thing seemed to be a common sentiment among neighborhood leaders: to see those who are calling out for change today fully engaged in the months and years to come as the issue requires a long-term commitment.