With the spring rains behind us, the Oakland’s parks have sprung. Tall grasses reach for the redwood branches sprouting new green growth. But in the face of looming deficits can the city of Oakland tend to its own backyard?

More than 100 parks and 2,500 acres of open space make maintenance seem a dream from summers past. But thanks in part to the Oakland Parks Coalition, some resident volunteers are taking a pledge to steward the city’s natural spaces.

Public space as a welcome place

Ron Wolff is one of those stewards. On Monday morning, I found him scanning the grounds at Lafayette Square Park – a patch of open space a few blocks west of City Center. A silver-haired and retired international trade consultant, Ron walks here from his home three times a week to clean up the place. Soon after he moved to Old Oakland, he began to care for the park.

“I was walking through and the place was a mess – garbage everywhere,” Wolff said. “I figured well, somebody’s gotta do something and the city doesn’t have the budget so I may as well get involved.”

Over the next few months, he built relationships with the Public Works department and the Old Oakland Neighbors group to pick up debris in Lafayette Square.

“This spot was redone in 1999 by the architect Walter Hood. I talked with him and learned how the spirit of the park was to welcome everybody,” Wolff said. “That meant not kicking out the down-and-outs. So he kept some of the old amenities in the park, like the horseshoe pit.”

Wolff occasionally plays horseshoes with the homeless guys in the park and said all types of people make use of Lafayette Square. After the 1906 Earthquake, it was a major hub for San Francisco refugees.

“You get three-piece suits in here, Asians doing tai chi and families using the structure,” he said while picking up trash on the square’s grassy knoll, the site of the city’s first observatory. “The park actually does its job pretty well.”

Guerilla gardeners take to the weeds

Across town in North Oakland, Claudia Herron breaks ground on a community garden. She adopted the Dover Street Park when she heard that a family was accosted after its opening.

“I started a First Sunday gathering as an anti-violence effort,” she said. A mother of three, she has lived just a block from what her kids call “Purple Park” for 12 years. “I figured that if we know each other, it creates a safe environment.”

The result was a neighborhood coalition of residents who held events and community clean-ups on a regular basis. Since the city funding dropped last December, Herron has rallied for a Keep Oakland Beautiful grant and some guerilla gardeners to spruce up the park just behind Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Last Sunday, the group broke ground for an herb garden. Residents from the North Oakland Senior Center next door will soon help maintain raised beds while kids taking part in the Healthy Heart program at Children’s Hospital down the street will also pitch in.

As volunteer soldiers rolled wheelbarrows and raked at the Bermuda grass, Herron put on her gloves and said, “It’s been a wonder to see what started as one person and see a whole neighborhood transform a space.”