A couple of months back I wrote about efforts to fight graffiti along the Prince Memorial Greenway, the $25 million linear park along Santa Rosa Creek west of City Hall.

I'm happy to report that, almost 10 weeks later, visible progress has been made.

Santa Rosa police sent an important message at the end of May when they set up a late-night stakeout along the Greenway, arresting two men in the act of spray-painting gang graffiti along the concrete walls of the public trail that provides east-west access under Highway 101. For anyone paying attention, it was a clear signal that what had become a rash of spray-paint tagging along the Greenway would not be tolerated.

Not long after those arrests a new, tile mural was installed in the same place the graffiti had been painted. The colorful dragon, created by the talented young artists of Artstart and partially funded by the city's Art in Public Places program, joins several other impressive art installations that make the Greenway a pleasant and interesting stroll along the creek.

At left are before and after pictures of the trail under Highway 101.

This week, the city launched a new program aimed at putting more eyes and ears — and hands — to work at keeping the Greenway free of graffiti, trash and vandalism.

As part of the "National Night Out" event on Tuesday — a program aimed at bringing citizens outdoors to claim ownership of their neighborhoods after dark — about two dozen people signed up to be "Greenway Guardians."

These are regular users of the linear park who will, at a minimum, report problems as they crop up, and, in many cases, provide the volunteer labor to clean up trash and paint over graffiti.

"It was a great turnout," said Georgia Pedgrift, Santa Rosa's community engagement coordinator. "We had couples sign up together, neighbors of the Greenway, people of different ages, people who walk their kids to school at Burbank Elementary, people who commute on their bikes to downtown."

Those volunteering to be part of the program received a button that they are encouraged to wear while using the Greenway. The button depicts a little armored knight astride a fish and carrying a rake and a paintbrush.

"Ideally, we'll get to the point where more people will be wearing the buttons than not," Pedgrift said.

That may be a bit optimistic, but the fact is that the more people who feel invested in the health of the Greenway, the healthier the park will be. With city budgets being cut, there are not only fewer city workers to keep an eye on the state of the park, but fewer city workers available to respond when a vandalized trash can or tagged-up wall turns up. And if that kind of trash and vandalism is allowed to remain for more than a day or two, it tends to attract more of the same.

"The reality is that city staff can't keep the Greenway from being damaged," Pedgrift said. "But if we can get the community involved, we can do a better job of keeping it looking nice. And if it's looking nice, that sends the message to everyone that this is a place where you are expected to act appropriately."

It's a sad fact of life: trash breeds more trash; graffiti breeds more graffiti. On the positive side, though, care breeds more care.

If you care about the Greenway and want to become a Guardian, call Pedgrift at 543-3023.

(Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.)