A Saint John community group's effort to keep vandals out of a west side park is being applauded by a national non-profit organization that helps fund playgrounds.

Ian Hill, a founding member and chairperson of Let Them Be Kids, says keeping parks safe and fun is a problem right across Canada.

He says he's encouraged by the Lower Westians' plans to patrol the park outside the Carleton Community Centre, which has become a gathering place for teenagers and bad behaviour.

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Ian Hill, of Let Them Be Kids, says when citizens play a role in community spaces, they're more likely to be cared for long-term. (Courtesy of Let Them Be Kids)

Neighbourhood watch programs are one of the many ways people can take ownership of their community spaces, said Hill.

"Nefarious people look for places where there's low community engagement, so it becomes a downward spiral. No one's watching over the park, it's becoming dilapidated and the more people don't go there, the more it gets dilapidated and run down," he said.

"We can reverse that spiral, do some community gardens, community walking trails, have citizens design where the benches go and have some say, have them come out and install the bench. Next thing you know, we've turned that spiral around."

Citizens will patrol park

Starting on May 11, volunteers with the Lower Westians plan to don red shirts and patrol the park outside of the Carleton Community Centre in pairs between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

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The Red Shirt campaign will see volunteers patrol the playground outside the Carleton Community Centre. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Organizers say teens have been hanging out there at all hours of the day and night, drinking and using drugs, damaging property and intimidating young children and their parents.

Saint John Police support the project, but have cautioned volunteers not to confront anyone they suspect of criminal activity. They should contact police instead, said Sgt. David Hartley-Brown, supervisor of the community services unit.

The volunteer patrols come as the City of Saint John is looking at cutting some of its more than 70 playgrounds and baseball fields spread out across the city.

City council is looking at divesting itself of some of the little-used ones it can no longer afford to maintain.

Hill says he hopes community groups can take them over. When citizens play a role in cleaning up their community spaces, they're more likely to be cared for long-term, he said.

"This situation, in Saint John, could be a tremendous opportunity to rally community members who are just looking for something meaningful to get involved in," said Hill.

"We have literally seen that over and over."

Let Them Be Kids is a volunteer, grassroots, non-profit community-based organization that seeks to act as a catalyst for the building of playgrounds, skate parks and fitness park across Canada.

It has supported more than 160 projects across Canada since 2008.