Hundreds Rally to Save St. Louis County Parks

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Photos: Ashley Atkins
Demonstrators blanketed the sidewalk and then packed a County Council meeting last night.
A crowd that swelled to well over 200 people arrived to downtown Clayton yesterday to protest the proposed closing of dozens of St. Louis County Parks.

"Hopefully, we can send a message to County Executive Charlie Dooley that we just can't have these parks closed," said Danielle Zemmel, an organizer with Open Space Council that planned last night's rally. "Completely slashing one departments budget is not the best way to go about solving an economic issue."

Dooley's proposal this month to close 23 parks in an effort to eliminate $4.6 million from the county's 2012 budget outraged residents from the start. In the immediate days following the announcement, opponents of Dooley's proposal launched dozens of social media campaigns to raise awareness of the issue and -- hopefully -- get Dooley to reconsider. Last night, was the first time many of those critics had the opportunity to address Dooley within shouting distance. And shout they did, passing around a megaphone to have their opinions heard.

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Kevin Ganley, a retired supervisor for the parks department, told Daily RFT that he attended yesterday's rally to support the more than 100 park employees who'd lose their jobs under Dooley's proposal.

"I am here for the little maintenance man," said Ganley. "He's getting laid off while the people who have led this debacle are safe." Ganley says that, as he understand it, 72 percent of the people who'd be laid off under Dooley's proposal are from the parks department's operations maintenance division, yet those same employees make up just 48 percent of the department.

Laurie Chrisco, 40, created a Facebook page to save her favorite county park in Lone Elk Park. "He [Dooley] could cut back on other things," she said last night while attending the rally. "All of the land is being taken over, by buildings, by corporations, and it's got to stop," she said.

Mike Barken, a retired teacher in the Hazelwood School District, attended last night's demonstration with a teddy bear -- a nod to former president Teddy Roosevelt who helped forge the national park's system. "Where are the kids going to play next? In the street?" asked Barken. "I hope Dooley realizes that he has made the biggest mistake ever."

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