Clay Lank is giving his “little nippers” a bit of a rest and doesn’t plan on taking any more ticket-producing action in the foreseeable future.
In September, Lank, 84, was issued a warning letter and then a ticket for ‘damaging park or public lands,’ with a potential fine of $100.
For several years, Lank, who lives at the McGuire Lake Congregate Living Facility, has tidied up McGuire Lake Park, gathering up cigarette butts and other garbage, recycling cans and – the source of the ticket – clipping willow branches, trimming the tops off stumps, and pulling burdocks and thistles.
One day in September he had just cut off an 11-foot willow branch, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, which he says was hanging over the sidewalk.
He noticed city staff in a works truck across the street watching him.
“They’ve been concerned about my little nippers, that I’m infringing on their territory or going to put them out of work,” Lank surmised at the time.
A short time later he was given the ticket.
City staff said the situation wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Lank had been asked to stop cutting vegetation by the water’s edge as it’s a riparian zone. Staff said he’d been asked several times but wasn’t willing to co-operate.
Lank can still be seen working around McGuire Lake.
“I’m out here, getting exercise so I can stay out of the doctor’s office, building up an appetite, enjoying the beautiful scenery and nice people,” he told the Observer last week.
He was busy tidying up dirt left on the sidewalk by equipment that was being used to upgrade the irrigation system.
He explains the only things he’ll be removing now are burdocks, an action he says is okay with city staff.
“I will definitely keep hacking on the burdocks. The boys have no problem with me doing that.”
However, that view doesn’t seem to be shared by city staff. Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of public works, says even the city has to get permission to do work at the water’s edge.
He said he knows Lank has good intentions, but he mustn’t cut or trim. Pulling the weeds between the bricks on the memorial walkway is fine.
“What we’ve told Clay, if he sees something that is disturbing him or is in need of repair, see Jason or myself. You don’t need to take it upon yourself.”
Asked if the ticket situation has progressed, Lank said no.
“I never intended to (pay it) and they never intended me too.”
However, Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, says the unpaid ticket went where unpaid tickets routinely go – to collections.
Lank noted the city has since cleared and trimmed trees, branches and leaves round the lake. He is pleased with the work, so he doesn’t think he’ll need to be trimming any more vegetation – with one possible exception.
He’s given the city an ultimatum of sorts. If two dead cottonwoods on the water’s edge aren’t removed by the first week of January, he’s arranged for someone to come cut them.
“They’ll be coming down and I’ll be responsible,” he vows.
His challenge has sparked action, he says. An arborist came with red plastic tape and asked him to mark the two trees, which Lank has done.
As he chats, he mentions nonchalantly one little bit of clipping he’s done recently. He points to a small pile of limbs on the ground.
One evening about three weeks earlier, he pulled his 24-foot extension ladder over to the park on the little trolley he uses for such things. He had noticed that a branch from a healthy maple next to one of the dead cottonwoods might catch if the dead tree blows over. He thought it could pull over the maple, possibly damaging a light standard nearby or, worse, someone on the sidewalk.
So he climbed up the ladder and cut off the branch, which was about two inches in diameter. Told that it sounded like a dangerous job, Lank declares sometimes such actions are necessary.
“My feeling is, you’ve got to be confident and if you’re really careful and the cause is a good cause, it’s worth it.”