HIGH BRIDGE — Some people avoid the stonewalled staircase at East 165th Street that zigzags up Jerome Slope, which has long had a reputation as a dumping ground and a shady spot for illicit deeds.
And yet, groups of people have been gathering on and around these stairs once a month since the spring — children and their parents, high school and college students and other volunteers — who have helped make the stairs a little cleaner and safer.
“I’d love to be a part of greening this area,” said Eric Bernal, 34, a volunteer who lives next to nearby Yankee Stadium. “For that, I don’t mind giving up my time.”
The monthly cleanups were organized by a crew from New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit that manages community gardens around the city, including a garden on Anderson Avenue across from the top of the hillside staircase, which leads down to Jerome Avenue.
That group partnered with a local green team, The Bronx is Blooming, and on their first cleanup day in April drew 30 volunteers to the stairs.
On that first outing, the volunteers helped fill two garbage trucks with tree debris and all sorts of litter — dog poop, beer bottles, condom wrappers and even dead chickens, which the crew believes had been used in a religious ceremony in the wooded slope.
The following months brought new volunteers, including students and parents at P.S. 73, which sits by the top entrance to the staircase.
The crews roamed beyond the slope, too, spreading mulch and planting flowers around the school, in tree pits along Anderson Avenue and in Mullaly Park, which faces the bottom entrance to the stairs.
Earlier in the year, the community gardeners had been looking for a neighborhood project they could undertake, explained NYRP’s Bronx Community Initiatives Coordinator Charlie Reynoso.
When they saw a DNAinfo New York article describing the sorry state of the nearby staircase, they decided to spruce it up in the hopes that doing so might spur residents to use them more and help keep them clean.
The crews had their work cut out for them.
The steps and the walkway along P.S. 73’s schoolyard that leads to them are notorious not only for litter, but especially for dog waste, said Jimmy Rhames, who grew up in an Anderson Avenue apartment overlooking the stairs.
“People let their dogs defecate all over there,” he said. “And they don’t scoop the poop!”
In the past, the canopy of tree leaves covering the staircase and hill made it an ideal spot for drug users and others looking to have a good time, Rhames said — when he was growing up, kids called the slope “lovers lane.”
Nilka Martell, a Parkchester-based community organizer, brought her two teenage children and their friend to the Jerome Slope cleanup on Saturday, where they cheerfully snatched up litter with gripping tools, despite a steady drizzle.
Martell said she wants her children to take ownership for their streets and parks — and for other Bronxites to do the same.
“If you see something that needs done, instead of complaining about it,” she suggested, “do something about it.”