The Detroit Mower Gang: Making Playgrounds Safe for Local Detroit Children

By: Kurt Buesching | August 25, 2011

About a year ago, Tom Nardone found an excuse for getting something he always wanted… a lawn tractor.  Living in the suburbs of Detroit, he did not really need it for his own home.  Instead, his vision extended past his own backyard to the parks and playgrounds of Detroit.  He saw that there were many that were in need of clean up and decided to do something about it. 

The city of Detroit actually has 91 parks, far too many to be maintained on a regular basis.  Many of these parks have been abandoned and are overgrown and neglected.  Seeing this, Tom put in a call to action last August and so began the Detroit Mower Gang. 

The Detroit Mower Gang simply put is a group of individuals with a common interest; clean up the playgrounds and parks in Detroit so that the local children have a safe place to play.  Tom runs the entire group via Facebook.  About once a month, the groups chooses a park in need of maintenance and gathers to cut the lawn, take out trees and shrubs that do not belong and generally clean up the area. As he puts it, “This is not about beautification; it is more about making a safe place for kids to play.” 

Each meeting has its own wacky and fun theme.  For example, one of the more recent clean ups was called, “Why Do Lawn Tractors Have Headlights?” Normally, lawn mowing is done during the day, but not for this fearless group of do-gooders.  Instead, they met at 7 pm on a Friday night and proceeded to cleaned up the playground.  Tom figured they would work for a couple of hours, but come midnight, they were still going! 

The event was so successful that they decided to hold a sequel.  “Why Do Lawn Tractors Have Headlights part II” was held the following month.  This time they chose a park over run with trees and shrubs.  In keeping with the night theme, they removed all of these intrusive plants and made a blazing bonfire.  Things got a little too big and Detroit’s finest paid the Mowers a visit.  They enlightened the firefighters about what they were doing, and in turn the firefighters were very kind as they explained that no one is allowed to burn anything in Detroit.  Then they put the fire out.  Now the Mowers are looking for a chipper for future jobs.

One of the greatest things about the Detroit Mower Gang is the diversity of people that show up for events.  Tom puts it best, “When you show up to an event, you will be greeted by a strong handshake and you will immediately be part of the gang”.  From gear heads to Pro Detroiters, the gang has a mix of everyone from the young to the old.  The events are sometimes family friendly and other times have a more adult theme. 

Riverside Before            Riverside After 

                   Riverside Before                                              Riverside After

Tom wants to assure those that are hesitant about coming out to help for fear that they will not have anything to do. “You do not need to own your own lawn tractor to help.” he says, “Recently, Ryobi donated many different lawn tools, so there is always something for someone to do”.  In addition to that, the Master Gardeners of Wayne County also donated a chain saw, so that is available for use as well. 

Be forewarned, this is not your typical park clean up where you work for days and do not see much progress.  The Detroit Mower Gang works fast and furiously and gets the job done.  A playground will look completely different in a matter of a few short hours.  Many times, there will be 20-30 kids waiting for them to finish so that they can play.   

If you are interested in attending a clean up, go to Facebook and “like” the Detroit Mower Gang.  Tom puts posts up for all events.  This is important, because the location of an event can change at the last minute.  The reason being, if a park is chosen and then it ends up being mowed, they move on to another one that needs maintenance.  To see some of the work of the Detroit Mower Gang please visit www.mowergang.com.