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Hundreds turn out to ‘Clean the D’

Effort tidies up Eight Mile corridor

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 11, 2012

 Patrick Rourke, left, and David Dapkus, both students at Brother Rice High, pick up litter along Eight Mile, near Dequindre.

Patrick Rourke, left, and David Dapkus, both students at Brother Rice High, pick up litter along Eight Mile, near Dequindre.

Photo by David Schreiber

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DETROIT — On Eight Mile near Klinger, east of Dequindre, is a gas station and party store, or what remains of it, anyway. The pumps are gone, and no signage remains to give the place a name.

The terrain is cratered, and rainwater pools in the middle, dark and murky. Grocery bags and fast-food wrappers are entangled in the cyclone fencing, while bricks, shards of glass and huge chunks of Styrofoam litter the ground. Weed-choked fields grow unchecked out back, all but obscuring a discarded luggage trunk.

Meanwhile, Eight Mile traffic barrels by, ignoring the eyesore.

On Saturday, May 5, it was ignored no longer. High school students and a few adults in yellow-green shirts started hauling away the trash, sweeping up the debris and picking up the litter. Hundreds of others were doing similar work all along Eight Mile, some 27 miles between I-275 to the west and I-94 to the east.

The mass cleanup was part of the Eight Mile Boulevard Association’s Clean the D, an annual event now in its 17th year.

“Anytime you have an area that’s unkempt, it attracts criminal activity, so we keep the corridor looking its best,” said Tami Salisbury, executive director of the 8MBA. “This program supplements the work we do with other revitalization programs, like our business façade grants. They’re all creating positive change through physical transformation.”

Brian Fitzpatrick of Bloomfield Hills was working with the student group from Brother Rice High School, cleaning up the out-of-commission gas station near Klinger. One of the adults in the group, Fitzpatrick’s family is hosting a student from China. As he never did community service while his daughter was in school, this has been an opportunity for him to get involved.

“We’re taking the first layer off, and then we’ll bring the weed whackers in and weed-whack it all down,” Fitzpatrick said. “Hopefully, it will make it look better. Every little bit helps.”

The volunteers started their day around 8 a.m. in the back of Belmont Shopping Center at Eight Mile and Dequindre. There they registered and received their work assignment for the day. Many of the volunteers were from schools or churches, while others heard about it by word-of-mouth or via the Believe in Detroit website.

Kate Huffman of Canton was there with the Detroit Spartans, a MSU alumni group that has meet-ups for networking and recreation across metro Detroit, as well as such community service events as the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure this month and Gleaners Food Bank in June.

“I think it’s awesome,” Huffman said. “We have a number of fire hydrants we’re going to paint, and then we’ll pick up trash and debris between Evergreen and Southfield.”

Ed Shaffer of Troy is a basketball coach at Brother Rice High and works in the school’s development office. When he arrived for registration, he learned he was a group leader for 22 kids, many of them from his basketball team, and they would be sprucing up a defunct railroad yard at Eight Mile and Hoover.

Like Huffman’s group, one of their duties would be painting fire hydrants. Over the past two years, Clean the D has given 400-some hydrants a fresh coat of paint on Eight Mile, with the last 150-plus hydrants done this year. There were plenty of weeds to pull and litter to pick up, as well.

“I think what happens is the railroad yard ends up becoming a dump lot; people dump trash and spend time doing things they shouldn’t do, so we have to kind of clean it up,” Shaffer said, noting this is their second time handling the lot.

“This is a great way to get these kids to understand a real-life example of where their service is needed,” he said. “Also, this gives us a chance to get together off the court and bond in a way we wouldn’t be able to on the court. For me, it’s a no-brainer.”

As Salisbury explains, Eight Mile is well-worth the attention. It’s the only corridor connecting the three largest counties in the state, with some of the highest traffic counts in the state trunk line, upwards of 90,000 vehicles passing through each day. That’s a lot of consumers, she notes, and there are 1,700 businesses to cater to them.

The 8MBA was formed to strengthen the area. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the 8MBA is funded 50 percent by dues from communities and counties, 25 percent by member businesses and 25 percent by way of an annual fundraiser.

“If we can get past the perception issues, it would be amazing,” Salisbury said. “We’re excited because this (Clean the D) also happens to be two weeks before the biggest retail development ever built in the city of Detroit,” referring to the 350,000 square feet of multiple retailers, anchored by Meijer, to be built on the 37 acres at the southeast corner of Eight Mile and Woodward.

“It’s a major artery,” she said of Eight Mile. “There’s painting to be done, mulch and weeding, and since spring is earlier than normal, we’re planting flowers. All of these little things, and to be honest, if every business did them, the transformation would be incredible. I truly believe that just as blight is contagious, so is beautification.”

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