Trash Pandas cleaning up this park

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tomlin
Volunteers calling themselves ‘Trash Pandas’ have been cleaning up the grounds of Memorial Park in Maplewood since the beginning of the year.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — It’s not unusual to see these Trash Pandas out during the daytime.

Unlike the nocturnal raccoons from which they get their name, this group works during the daytime, cleaning up rather than making a mess.

They are part of the Maplewood Memorial Park Conservancy and they have begun doing a monthly clean-up of the park that is in the center of town, just outside the village and down hill from the train station.
Their latest clean up, on Saturday, April 29, was the third since the group was created and organized.

“We do this the fourth Saturday of every month,” said Lara Tomlin, a member of the Conservancy Board of Directors. “People were making complaints about the amount of garbage in the park, so we decided to make it a group activity to inspire more turnout. It is only one hour, so it is a bite-sized activity, sometimes it becomes competitive, which makes it more fun.”

The Conservancy was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2017, today it has more than 40 members and an eight-person board of directors. A partnership agreement with the Township of Maplewood was signed in 2018, with a mission to preserve, improve and maintain the park.
“Usually, five or six people show up each time and help. I believe that if you see a problem then you should try to be a part of the solution,” Tomlin said.

The Conservancy also organizes events in the park for residents and those passing through the town to get involved in.
“Last weekend we had a birding walk around the park for spring migration,” Tomlin said. “We do both spring and fall migration walks; an experienced birdwatcher volunteers their time to lead the walks. We saw 34 different species of birds last week; it is a good way to encourage people who walk around the park to bring binoculars and get to know their environment.”

Tomlin discussed her goal in organizing this clean-up effort and what she hopes to see from residents in the future.

“The hope is that parents will bring their kids and teach them about the value of taking care of your environment,” Tomlin said. “The takeaway after cleaning the park for an hour is that people will be less likely to litter and will notice if someone is littering their space that they took time out to clean.”
Additional information on the Conservancy and the park can be found here: