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'Mower Gang' takes on Detroit's overgrown parks

These days, services in Detroit are bare-bones—and a lot of the work that does get done is done by volunteers.

The Detroit Mower Gang is just one of the many groups tackling that work.

The group mowed grass, trimmed brush and picked up trash at parks throughout the city during their “Motown Mowdown,” a 24-hour mowing binge that also involved an overnight camp out in one park.

This is from their event announcement on Facebook:

The Mower Gang is hosting a Mow-A-Thon unlike any you have ever seen. For 24 hours straight we'll mow as much parkland as we can.

Mower Gang leader Tom Nardone launched the group 3 years ago, after budget cuts forced the city to “close” more than 70 parks. But those parks aren’t really “closed” at all.

“They don’t barricade them, they just stop mowing them,” Nardone says. So he decided to launch the Mower Gang, and it’s grown over time.

Nardone says the whole task can seem overwhelming, but the results are immediately gratifying.

The playground in O'Shea Park in Detroit.
Credit MowerGang / Facebook
The playground in O'Shea Park in Detroit.

“A lot of places we mow have parks and playgrounds,” Nardone says. “So as soon as you’re done mowing the tall grass, people come out and play.”

Part of the Gang tackled Riverside Park in southwest Detroit on Saturday afternoon. That’s another park that’s been “closed”—due to environmental contamination—but is still heavily used, especially for fishing on the river.

“This here is a beautiful park,” says Leon Newton. He’s a neighborhood guy who came down to lend the Mower Gang a hand.

Newton calls Riverside Park’s state of disrepair one of his “pet peeves.” He says it forces the kids who live next door to play in the street, rather than at the park.

“They got a playground over there that’s supposed to be for kids to use, but they got weeds as tall as me and you put together,” Newton says.

Newton says he’d occasionally come by to pick up trash at the park, but nobody from the city would come by and pick it up. The Mower Gang is unofficially sanctioned by the city, and trucks do come by to pick up the waste after they clean up a park.

“So this group here, hey…I got to take my hat off to them,” Newton says. “It’s people like this who keep the city running.”

Here's Mower Gang founder Tom Nardone explaining how his group got started.

His mathematical message - Something is greater than nothing.


Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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