Making the world and Mears Park a greener place

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Volunteers don’t run the world.

But without them things would fall apart.

I snapped the photo above recently in Mears Park in St. Paul’s Lowertown.

It captures Del Case in the classic gardening pose – bent over, digging in the earth.

Del is the volunteer coordinator of 82 other volunteers who make up the Friends of Mears Park. Every year they donate thousands of hours and dollars to clean, plant and weed the 45 plots there.

Plants are donated by the Minnesota Horticultural Society, among other groups. The St. Paul parks department helps with some supplies. You can hear more from Del in a Minnesota Sounds & Voices installment tonight on All Things Considered.

The entire effort, obviously, is underscored by the fact that St. Paul and most other cities don’t have the money to keep all their parks in tip top shape.

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And, so, volunteers including Alena Kulp, on the left, and Karen Brennan along with others willingly and even somewhat joyously donate their time.

A tiny bit of history is in order at this point to note the rather incredible success story of this Lowertown neighborhood. Our source is the Minnesota Historical Society Collection.

That’s where the papers of the Lowertown Redevelopment Corporation reside. No need to rummage through the 57 boxes. Here’s a summary: In the 1970s, then-St. Paul Mayor George Latimer took stock of the 18 square block Lowertown area and decided it needed a major face lift.

Lowertown is the oldest part of St. Paul. Forty years ago it was a crumbling collection of warehouses and the mostly defunct Union Depot, the sprawling and once-grand train station.

The change after $750 million in public and private sector investment is quite dazzling.

Lowertown is now one of the Twin Cities hottest and hippest destinations with several thousand units of housing. There are plenty of bistros. It has one of the best weekend farmer’s markets in the country and a new light rail line that will be up and running in a couple of years. And the Union Depot is getting a nearly $250 million renovation.

Mears Park is smack dab in the middle with a burbling stream running through it.

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