Parks are assets to communities, places where children, families and neighbors can meet, play and relax together.

Unfortunately, they also can attract a less desirable element -- criminals, hooligans and vandals.

For them, a park isn't a place to enjoy, but rather a place to cause trouble.

Left unchecked, these disrespectful jerks can effectively take over a park and make it unsuitable for law-abiding residents.

Who wants to take the family for a picnic if a drug deal or brawl is likely to happen a few feet away?

Vandals are almost worse because the only possible reason for their actions is to ruin a park for everyone else.

Twice in three days this month some idiot or idiots targeted Cousler Park in Manchester Township.

First, someone drove a vehicle onto a baseball field and did doughnuts, causing $500 in damage, then a day later someone toppled a soda machine and ripped padding from basketball net supports.

Hallam actually had to close the basketball courts at its community park for a few days last summer because of a rash of vandalism.

Police departments do their best, but it's not feasible to station an officer at a park 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So what's a community to do?

Well, in Red Lion, they took simply their park back.

For years, drugs, fights and vandalism were commonplace in Fairmount Park. York Area Regional police were called to the park an average of about 50 times a year as recently as 2009.

Then something changed.

Dove Community Cell Church, located across the street from Fairmount, started Presence in the Park about five years ago. Members of the congregation began going to the park to hand out water and snacks to people, to play games with them and to hold prayer walks.

Two years later, Bethany United Methodist and Pleasant View Church of the Brethren in North Hopewell Township joined with Dove Community for the initiative.

Each church now takes one day a week at the park, interacting with the residents and, by their presence, sending the message that illegal activity isn't welcome. Members say they hope other churches will come forward to take the other days of the week.

Combined with increased police patrols and improvements at Fairmount, Presence in the Park has cut the number of police calls by more than a third, according Cpl. Keith Dyke, York Area Regional's liaison to the churches.

"It's been fabulous to see the numbers decline," he said. "Anytime you can get the faith-based community and any member of the community involved, it's a wonderful thing."

The problems at Fairmount Park weren't unique to Red Lion -- and neither is its remedy.

Churches abound in York County -- as do volunteer organizations and neighborhood groups -- and members are always looking for ways to meet their communities' needs.

If one of those needs happen to be reclaiming a park for residents, they can help just by lending their presence.