It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Parks and Recreation Director Dannettee Shoemaker said the "No Trespassing" signs along the San Lorenzo River levees are a way to encourage more visitors to the parkland.
Volunteers who have been cleaning up the levees twice a week have found piles of needles, human waste and garbage. Big piles.
In the first nine months of the year, they have cleared up 300 yards of waste, ranging from 29 yards in March to 62 yards in July. (See pics above for examples, but beware. Some are disgusting.).
"All I can tell you is that the condition of the banks leading down to the river and behind the businesses on Front Street, were an absolute health hazard," said Shoemaker. "It reached a point where it wasn't even healthy for our staff to deal with the mess."
A group of concerned residents who call themselves the Leveelies have been laboring long and hard to clean up the mess twice a week and documenting what they find.
"They took yards and yards of filth out of there," continued Shoemaker. "They have pictures of human waste, vodka bottles, syringes, garbage."
Shoemaker said it was so bad, it was a hazard to the protected Monterey Bay.
"Until we can get the area cleaned up and let the vegetation grow back and keep this filth out of our river, it's got to stay closed."
This doesn't mean people can't walk on the asphalt along the levee. It just means people can't use the banks for their personal bedroom and bathroom.
"We want to encourage more people to be out there," said Shoemaker. "We are seeing more people out there biking and walking."
The city has put up mile markers so people can track how far they have exercised. It is also adding exercise equipment to the area behind Gateway Plaza. And, it has made a Disc Golf Course on the other side of the river, behind the county administration building, to help clear up a place people were using to sleep, sell drugs and traffic stolen bicycles.
"We want to clear up the illegal activity so law-abiding citizens can use the levee," said Shoemaker. "It can be such a beautiful walkway."