Community cleans up

Locals, police on parallel missions to improve Oroville’s Bedrock Park

Street pastor John Orth holds church every Sunday in Oroville’s Bedrock Park.

Street pastor John Orth holds church every Sunday in Oroville’s Bedrock Park.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

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Project Clean Up Bedrock meets at Bedrock Park to collect trash every Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

John Orth started going to Bedrock Park in Oroville religiously about eight years ago. The beauty of the area, which occupies a swath of land just north of Montgomery Street along the Feather River, called to him. He met his wife, Stephanie, there. They take their kids there for barbecues. And it’s where he holds a Sunday church service, on the steps overlooking the water.

Over the past couple of years, however, the park has changed. More homeless camps popped up. Trash became ubiquitous. Then, this past April, news spread that a boy had been playing there and was stuck by a needle.

Enough was enough.

“This sparked something in my heart for change,” Stephanie said. “My husband and I and a few others have started a mission called Project Clean Up Bedrock, and I believe we have made some sort of a difference.”

Others, like Teri Tata, a relative newcomer to Oroville who has become active in the community, agree and are happy to help. After Tata moved to the area—she and the Orths both live in the neighborhood surrounding Bedrock—she and a friend often walked around the park.

“The thing is, it’s dirty all the time,” she said. “Or it’s dangerous. So, when John’s wife said she wanted to clean up the park, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is what has to be done.’”

Around the same time the Orths, Tata and others began their weekly effort to clean up Bedrock—a group meets every Thursday—the Oroville Police Department also jumped on board. Last October, it hired eight municipal law enforcement officers, and they finished training and were deployed about three months ago, said Al Byers, assistant to the police chief. Those officers, who are unsworn, spread out to all the city parks, he said; not just Bedrock.

“We have limited resources in Parks and Recreation. A lot of times, the park looks poor because of that,” Byers said of Bedrock. A Facebook page dedicated to the park revealed many complaints about drug paraphernalia found there as well as drug activity in the restrooms. Orth said last summer the restrooms were closed completely; now they’re open during the day but tend to be dirty. Multiple voice messages to the Parks and Recreation Department were not returned by press time.

A former drug addict and alcoholic, Orth can pinpoint the exact moment he discovered his new path, one guided by Jesus and the Bible, love, acceptance and ministry. About 10 years ago, not long after having moved to Oroville, the death of his infant son led him to Christ. He’s been ministering ever since.

Stephanie describes her husband as a “street preacher.” His church: One Cross Won Ministries. Its home is Bedrock Park—there is no altar, no roof, no choir. “We’ve done a lot of baptisms right there in the river,” Orth said, pointing to a spot along the shore. A handful of people stood nearby, casting their lures in hopes of bringing home dinner. Others appeared less welcoming, the signs of methamphetamine and alcohol abuse clear on their faces and in their demeanor.

“This park has a bad reputation, but in the past couple years it’s declined,” Orth said. “It feels like this forgotten place. It’s frustrating—I don’t know what in the world to do about it.”

A few weeks ago, during a cleanup, a woman found a syringe under one of the picnic benches. Orth stepped in to retrieve it for her. The needle had been bent, but the cap was nearby. When he went to put the cap on, however, the needle stuck through the side of it and pricked his finger. He went to Oroville Hospital, where he was given three prescriptions that he’s been taking daily. “It’s supposed to be like an A-bomb for the system, against AIDS and hepatitis,” he said. “The chances of me getting anything are unlikely, but it’s a precaution.”

Both Tata and Byers say they’ve noticed a positive change over the past couple of months.

“You can see now people are going to Bedrock and to other parks,” Tata said. “People go and take a dip in the water, or to have a barbecue. I think this town is beautiful; we have to take it back. By cleaning it, the parks, people go there again.”

That’s exactly what the Orths want to see. They enjoy church by the river, picnics under the trees. They will continue their weekly cleanups, Orth said, and hope to spread the word that Bedrock Park is family-friendly. The police effort helps as well. “The police have done so many good things lately,” Tata said. “They have stepped up in many ways, cleaned up a lot.”

“Since we started the [municipal law enforcement] program, we’ve reduced the number of transient camps considerably,” Byers said. “We used to have several dumpsters full of trash at a time; now we’re down to a smaller dump truck full.”

Orth agreed that the entire community effort has been paying off. And his interactions with law enforcement have all been positive. Having once been down and out himself, however, he sees a bigger picture when it comes to the drug users and homeless who gravitate to Bedrock Park, particularly at night.

“Realistically, what we’re doing will make a difference—but it won’t solve the problem,” Orth said. “All we can do is lead by example, and love people where they’re at.”