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Crystal River okays park repair money

The neighborhood park bears more than Frederick Copeland's name.

It is a product of money from his own pocket, given 14 years ago to create a city park in the heart of Crystal River's black community.

It is a product of efforts by Copeland himself, who has picked up empty beer bottles strewn throughout the park and has washed down the restrooms when city workers got behind on upkeep.

"I've done all I could to rebuild that community," said Copeland, a longtime Citrus County educator for whom Frederick W. Copeland Neighborhood Park was named. "We need to give just more time and attention to security around Copeland Park."

Copeland and a handful of his neighbors brought their concerns to City Hall last week. They pointed to the park's shot-out floodlights and rundown fence and asked the city to better maintain it.

City police responded by increasing patrols in the area, and Monday night the City Council approved spending $2,500 to fix the lights and fence.

But those answers, council members pointed out, are quick fixes. The real solution lies in the area's fledgling neighborhood watch program.

"It's got to be people looking out for people," council member Claire Laxton said. "That'll be step No. 1."

The park's problems are nothing new. For years, police, residents and city officials have complained about vandalism and drug dealing at the park.

But recently, amid efforts to launch a crime watch program in the predominantly black neighborhood, Copeland Park's reputation as a problem area in Crystal River has again surfaced.

Five of its six lights have been shot out, leaving the park a dark haven for drug deals and underage drinking.

Vandals overran the restrooms. Now they are locked after 3 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

Until Copeland brought his concerns to the council Monday night, members were unaware the park's restrooms are closed most of the time. They encouraged City Manager Roger Baltz to meet with neighborhood representatives to work toward long-term help for the park.

Baltz said he hoped increased police patrols would make a difference in the area. He said hiring a part-time security guard would cost about $10,000 a year and probably would not be worthwhile.

"We can't be there 24 hours a day," Baltz said. "I cannot guarantee these remedies are going to be long-lasting or solve the problems. Whether they'll be vandalized again, only time will tell."

Council member Daryl Oster suggested using video cameras to monitor activity at the park. He said small cameras can be used to discourage vandals.

Council member Ron Kitchen said he hopes the neighbors could work with city officials not only to repair the park, but to prevent future vandalism.

"I'm so uncomfortable with the typical government response of, "Let's write a check and forget about it,' " Kitchen said. "What we're doing is we're putting a Band-Aid on something. We're not curing the problem, and we need to make every effort at curing the problem."

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