Bee Investigator: Modesto area park bathrooms available? Depends

snowicki@modbee.comMay 5, 2013 

    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
    Recent stories written by Sue

Park bathrooms.

Say those two words out loud and you can almost smell them, can't you? Ewwww.

Remember your childhood (or adult!) experiences going into one and finding toilet paper submerged in water around the toilets? Or no toilet paper at all? Seeing "Bob loves Peggy" or "Call me" with a phone number underneath or other graffiti on the stall walls? Going into some bathrooms that have no doors on the stalls?

Or one of the worst hazards for a female: walking into the men's side by mistake and seeing those crusty urinals … or (much worse) a man using one.

Yes, it can be horrible. But what if those facilities weren't even there? Or what if they are there, but aren't open?

That's what happened to Cherie Casey of Modesto. Back in March, when we had that spate of perfect 70-degree days, she wrote: "With the beautiful spring weather, my grandchildren and I have been spending more time in local parks, including birthday celebrations. But when nature calls, we are finding the bathrooms locked.

"Does the parks department really expect people to get back in their cars and go home, which can be miles away, or do they expect us to teach our children to go behind a bush? Small children and older adults often can't hold it in for very long. And what are we supposed to tell our children when they see someone else (urinating) or defecating in the pond, which is often the case at Turlock's Donnelly Park?"

Good questions. Wish I had some good answers for her.

Unfortunately, because we don't live in Gomer Pyle's Mayberry, residents can't keep their doors unlocked, churches can't keep their sanctuaries available and city officials can't leave park bathrooms open 24 hours a day.

If it's not graffiti, it's arson, metal theft or just plain ol' vandalism. It costs cities plenty of money, it inconveniences residents and probably helps keep the maker of Depend undergarments in business.

In Modesto, there are 75 city parks, 49 of them with restrooms. Three of those are closed indefinitely: at Beard Brook Park, after continued vandalism to the electrical system, which causes sewage to back up; Everett, because of stolen valves; and Sylvan, where arson destroyed the structure.

Vandalism at Modesto parks has caused nearly $26,000 in material and labor repairs since July 1. Removing graffiti at the facilities adds an additional $1,676.

Julie Hannon, Modesto's director of parks and recreation, said the community park bathrooms are open year-round, while those at neighborhood parks (smaller parks next to an elementary school) are closed from Thanksgiving until April.

When they are open, most bathrooms are unlocked 24 hours a day (although the parks are officially closed by 10 p.m. Sixteen of them have been "adopted" by neighborhood groups, which lock the restrooms at night and unlock them in the morning. Two newer parks (Sanders and Freedom) have timers that control the locks.

Eric Schulze, Turlock's parks, recreation and public facilities superintendent, said the park bathrooms there have been hit by minor vandalism, but none that has required an extended closure. But, he said, there are only 24 parks in Turlock, and only five of those have bathroom facilities.

Turlock's parks are open year-round, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from late October through early March, and from 7:30 a.m. until dark every day the rest of the year.

"Most damage happens when the parks aren't being used at capacity, and that is one of the reasons the bathrooms are locked at night and on weekends," he said.

As for Casey's other question about people using the parks as a toilet, Schulze said, "We have not seen it happening or received many complaints" about that problem.

Here's an idea: Why not get a group together to adopt your Modesto neighborhood park? Call (209) 577-5417.

NEXT WEEK: Odds and ends.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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