Main-Dempster Mile hosts 4th annual Earth Day Neighborhood Cleanup


Kelly Cloonan/The Daily Northwestern

Event organizer and Main-Dempster Mile Executive Director Katherine Gotsick stands at the cleanup’s check in station.

Kelly Cloonan, Reporter

Evanston residents stood in a long line along Chicago Avenue Saturday — not for coffee or food, but for gloves and trash bags at the Main-Dempster Mile’s Earth Day Neighborhood Cleanup.

The fourth annual cleanup included working on sidewalks and in parks around the Main-Dempster Mile, as well as Grey Park. Main-Dempster Mile executive director Katherine Gotsick said the event had 195 signups as of Friday morning — a record number and increase from the 30 signups the event had during its first year in 2018.

Gotsick attributed the increased number of volunteers to the city’s inclusion of the event in digital newsletters and a larger Main-Dempster Mile mailing list. Additionally, she noted this was the first year that groups signed up, including a Girl Scouts troop, Beacon Academy, Grey Park neighbors and a Northwestern sorority.

According to Gotsick, the large number of volunteers expanded the group’s capacity to care for the neighborhood.  

“(It) means we can tackle some really problem areas, like parks and larger areas that would normally be neglected,” she said, adding that this was the first year she got everything on her list checked off. 

Cleanup volunteers checked in at either of two sites, coLab Evanston or Coco Design & Build Co., to receive supplies before heading out to clean sidewalks and parks.

This year was the first time the cleanup included Grey Park, which borders psychiatric clinic Albany Care on Maple Avenue.

Neighbors in the area connected through a Facebook group last year and have since talked about removing the cigarette butts and trash in the park, Grey Park neighbor Dan Coyne said.

Coyne said there have been tensions between residents of the neighborhood and of Albany Care. 

“We’re just trying to find creative ways to build the relationships between each other,” he said. “With any volunteer project, it’s not necessarily what you get done that day, but the relationships that will be more peaceful going forward.”  

Resident Erica Thieleman said one important goal was getting a better sense of the neighborhood. 

“I don’t really look too deeply on the ground in this neighborhood. So you notice details you never noticed before,” Thieleman said. 

Holding his young son, Matthew Kessler-McMunn said he hopes to be an example for the next generation, including his nieces and nephews who accompanied him.

The Earth Day Neighborhood Cleanup also offered various incentives to the volunteers, including a free half pint of beer from Sketchbook Brewing Company or a free scoop from FRÍO Gelato.

According to Gotsick, the incentives started back in 2018 when Bagel Art Cafe offered a free bagel to everyone who participated. She said the program introduces people to businesses they might not have normally visited. 

“It’s a really neat way to get people into businesses they might not have walked into on another day,” Gotsick said.

Next year, Gotsick said she hopes to recruit more groups and expand the cleanup’s reach.

Though the cleanup was not scheduled to start until 11 a.m., Coyne said he started sanding and staining picnic tables at 8 a.m. and continued through the afternoon. Another neighbor, fourteen-year-old Jeremiah Simons, power washed a series of stone steps. Others picked up trash from the park and neighboring yards and raked leaves.

Volunteers said they were drawn to the event for various reasons, including a desire to put some love back into the area where they spend so much of their time.

“We love our community and just want to make it better,” Evanston resident Haley Kerr said.

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