Katherine Michaelis enjoys walking in the park.
Three times a day she meanders through the winding paths of Reg Franklin Park close to the middle of downtown Maple Ridge and usually emerges with some treasures left by other park users.
In the last few months, Michaelis says she’s seen more signs that drug users are using the secluded spot that’s just a few blocks from city hall.
Down the banks of the creek, possibly a tributary to Morse Creek, that flows at the back of the apartment buildings along 224th Street, Michaelis has found needles, garbage, old clothes and recently, some feces-covered panties and a t-shirt.
Armed with a pair of long-handled trash grabbers, she takes it upon herself to remove the junk on a daily basis and cart it out of the park and put it into a garbage container.
“It was pretty gross. I can’t leave that there, because there are people with pets, people with kids.”
Once in awhile, there are verbal encounters, with someone recently yelling at her and threatening her.
The park, with its shady areas provided by tall cedars, is heavily used by all generations and adjoins the grounds of Eric Langton elementary, while there’s also St. Patrick’s church and daycare nearby. Seniors from nearby apartments that line 224th Street stroll through the paths, she points out.
Michaelis says it’s not homeless people who are using the park. Instead, she says it’s a younger group, who just show up in the park, seemingly at regular times, 8 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m., to use drugs, then leave again.
“The homeless people, they don’t hide in the bushes, because they’re afraid of the kids that will be stoned. This is terrible.”
She’s contacted the city and Ridge Meadows RCMP. The city said that bylaws make regular patrols through the park while RCMP said they would contact a community watch group, either Citizens on Patrol, or Block Watch.
“It’s only … snowballed since the last month and a half. The kids are out of school now,” she says.
During a brief walk-through Monday, a hoodie-clad man in sun glasses walked slowly and to a park bench, tilting precariously slightly this way and that, before departing a few minutes later.
A few seconds later, two teenage girls approaching the park, make a detour and seek the cover of the buildings near the school.
Estelle Williams, who lives nearby, regularly walks through the park without incident but on Saturday was shouted at by a man sitting on one of the benches. “I felt very uncomfortable.”
She says the city has cleaned up some of the underbrush in the park but could do more. And she’ll be more careful picking her times when she walks through the park. “In the future, I won’t be relaxed. I will be on the lookout, definitely more careful.”