The cherry trees around Summit Lake were in full blossom Saturday as about 300 volunteers — some in hip waders — surrounded Akron’s largest body of water for an annual spring cleaning.

“Found another one — heroin!” a young woman shouted from the shoreline by the parking lot. “I’m like a drug dog.”

She emerged from the mud carrying an empty plastic syringe. Her friends from the University of Akron Rifle Team — who made up about a dozen of the 300 volunteers who signed up for the Keep Akron Beautiful’s Earth Day cleanup — scrambled to find something safe to hold the leftover piece of someone’s addiction.

“They said to put syringes in a bottle,” a young man from the rifle team said, quickly dumping water from a bottle someone else had tossed in the lake long ago.

In a just a few minutes, they collected four syringes.

Summit Lake, once the site of a thriving waterfront amusement park, sits in what’s become one of Akron’s poorest neighborhoods.

On Thursday afternoon, a gunman targeted a 19-year-old man a couple of blocks away on West Crosier Street, which dead-ends into the Summit Lake Community Center, where the volunteers met Saturday. The man wasn’t hurt, but bullets from the attack struck several houses and parked cars.

A month earlier on West Crosier Street, even closer to the community center, a 79-year-old woman driving to her house was caught in afternoon crossfire. A bullet shattered the rear window of her car and another hit her in the head. The woman escaped serious injury, but she said doctors decided it was safer to leave the bullet lodged against the bone of her skull than to remove it.

Yet, in recent years, community groups have homed in on the potential of Summit Lake to not only change the neighborhood, but also the city.

On Saturday, rows of yellow umbrella-topped tables waited for people to sit next to the water. Summit Metro Parks, after experimenting with a pop-up venue, is creating a community-based nature center in the former pump house at the lake. And people, even in the rain, were hiking and biking part of the Towpath Trail that slices through the lake.

Tammy Dressel, 49, was part of a group of volunteers Saturday from Bridgestone who she said have spent the last three years volunteering for the April cleanup.

After finding at least one of two abandoned bicycles Saturday, she had returned for another bag to fill with trash, mostly paper and litter and, she said, cups from Circle K.

Dressel, who lives in Kenmore, began volunteering for the cleanup even before her employer became involved because Summit Lake abuts her neighborhood.

“The event has grown — a LOT,” she said.

It’s one of the positive changes she’s seen recently in the surrounding area, where she’s lived for 16 years.

Johanna Barnowski, who directs community outreach for Keep Akron Beautiful, said last week that volunteers clean up a mix of things, mostly candy wrappers and bottles that are dropped or blow in from nearby Manchester Road.

Over the years, she said, volunteers have found an assortment of odd items, too, including worn-out baby dolls, tires and a gun.

On Saturday, volunteers found at least two tires, two bicycles and enough trash to fill many piles of trash bags.

Francine Turner, 60, worked alone in a misty rain alongside Lakeshore Boulevard near the community center.

She didn’t know what Saturday’s rainy forecast would yield, so she slipped her Chapel of Grace Christian Center shirt over a long-sleeve shirt and then put a fleece jacket over that.

Later in the afternoon, Turner, who pastors with her husband at the Chapel of Grace on Copley Road, was looking forward to co-hosting a community get-together on the eve of Easter.

But at a bus stop near the Summit Lake Community Center, Turner on Saturday morning used a “grabber” — a telescoping stick with pinchers at the end — to pluck cigarette butts and broken glass from the ground.

There, surrounded by the promise of springtime, she said she also picked up something she hadn’t expected — joy.

“Being out here by myself,” Turner said, “was awesome.”

 

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.