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City responds after Hindu kite festival leaves mess in Riverside Park

'We'd be floating and it was like we were wrapped in the string like a spider web,' said a concerned resident who spent over four hours pulling kites from the Speed River around Riverside Park.

Residents of Preston were reeling Sunday when they discovered hundreds of kites and string left in trees and waterways in Riverside Park following a Hindu Kite Festival sanctioned by the city. 

The Saturday festival, which was organized by the Gujarati Hindu Society and featured a dj and food stalls, saw several kites lost due to high winds or that were cut and ended up littering the park, with some making it as far away as Waterloo Street. 

"We were out in our kayaks for four hours cleaning up all the string and plastic debris in the river," said Carol Thorman. 

Several residents headed to Riverside Park when they heard of the mess that was left over from the festival. Upon arrival, the group saw kites strewn all over the ground and in the waterways. 

"When we were pulling out the kites from the river it was like pulling up fishing nets," added Thorman. "We'd be floating and it was like we were wrapped in the string like a spider web." 

The resident clean-up crew was focused on protecting the wildlife that lives in the surrounding area. 

The lost kites would float down the river and get snagged on logs and raised embankments where many turtles frequent. 

One popular turtle hangout, dubbed Turtle Island by the community was lined with string, creating a hazardous situation for the Riverside reptiles. 

"Our kayaks were getting caught in the string just by floating, I couldn't imagine if a turtle or bird swimming by got caught too," said Thorman. 

Cambridge city councillor Corey Kimpson was contacted by her constituents about the mess and took the issue back to the city to clean up the park. 

"The city has been in contact with the event organizers and they are actively invested in the cleanup and also willing to cover the cost associated and fees incurred," Kimpson said. "I believe that they are feeling quite badly about what has happened and I would encourage members of our community to be respectful of one another."

The event saw over 150 people come out and indulge in cultural activities; one of them being the Indian tradition of kite fighting.

The president of the society, Ankit Patel said it was never their intention to harm anyone or the surrounding area. 

"There were really strong winds that day and severe thunderstorm warnings and some of the kites got taken away," said Patel. "No matter the reason, we take full responsibility and will do everything we can to help clean up the mess." 

Patel adds that the organizers and volunteers tried to clean up as much as they can at the park, but some of the kites were out of reach. 

Since the event, some people have been sending Patel threatening and racist messages directly to his personal social media account. 

"Some of them are attacking myself and my family," said Patel. "It's completely unnecessary and there is no reason to come after the Hindu community we are not here to affect anyone in a negative way. We want to support the community as much as we can." 

In response to the fallout, the City of Cambridge is looking at changing its application for events, making them more stringent in hopes of catching something in the future that may have a negative impact on the environment or the community itself. 

"We've had some preliminary discussions about special events within the city. There will be some modifications made to the application of the intake process to include a more stringent assessment of potential environmental impacts," said Kimpson. "We're certainly not going to be approving events of this nature moving forward."

Over the next few days, Kimpson and the City of Cambridge ask that any residents who see any kite debris to reach out to the city via their service portal to report their findings. 

The city will compile the complaints and create a plan to start removing the kites that are caught in the river, trees and hydro lines. 

Cambridge Fire Department has been down at Riverside Park to asses how much litter has fallen into the dam and into deep waters that are unsafe for residents to enter. 

"I just want to make sure this can get all cleaned up, we fought so hard to preserve this dam and we don't want more things affecting the environment here," said Thorman. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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