Post beach cleanup nets hefty garbage haul
By Patrick Buffett, Staff Writer | Fort Monroe Casemate | 19 June 2008
Approximately 2,500 pounds of garbage was cleared from Fort Monroe’s coastline by the 126 volunteers who participated in the June 7 Clean the Bay Day project here.
Soaring temperatures nearing the 100-degree mark didn’t discourage the environmentally conscious workers who flocked to the fort from as far away as Maryland. Working in small groups that were dispersed from the Mill Creek area near the front gate to Dog Beach and the seawall, the volunteers removed just about every type of trash imaginable — lumber, Styrofoam, glass and aluminum containers, plastics — and less likely items like a television set and an autographed guitar.
“Nothing that’s discovered during this event surprises me anymore,” said Grady Wesson, the post Environmental Division staff member who coordinated the installation project; one of many in the Tidewater area. Clean the Bay Day is a 20-year-old Chesapeake Bay Foundation program that now garners participation from Virginia Beach all the way up the eastern shore into Maryland.
According to Wesson, the trash collected is primarily the byproduct of ships, fishermen and people who throw trash/cigarette butts from their vehicles or drop it along the way when they have finished eating or drinking. “A lot of these products are toxic to plant and animal life in the bay region and it has reached the point where we just can’t ignore the harm that has been done,” he said.
“The cleanup is just one effort to reverse some of the adverse activities. Fort Monroe’s (environmental) program also includes efforts to keep yard waste and other harmful chemicals out of the storm drain system that empties unfiltered into the bay. It’s a total community effort and we’re determined to do our part.”
The large turnout for Saturday’s cleanup was a first, Wesson also said. Past events drew fewer than 30 participants, but a new advertising strategy using the Bay Foundation Web site stirred the interest of concerned citizens throughout the region. Among them was Vince Duobins, a marketing manager with Centennial Inc., a contract firm that manages military building projects on the east coast. He travelled five hours with his wife Emmy and daughters Kayte and Kali to participate in the Monroe cleanup.
“We decided to combine this with a vacation that we were planning to take anyway,” he said as he slowly teetered across the large rip-rap stones near Stilwell Road. “Our home is on the northern end of the bay and we are very much aware of the efforts to protect these waters. When we heard about this project, we felt that we should get involved and do our part.”
A short distance away, Conrad Gregory of the post Environmental Division was wrestling a large piece of lumber from a mass of tangled weeds. “This is far worse than it was last year,” he said while catching his breath. “I think a lot of the fishermen are coming here since the seawall is closed and they’re trashing the place. We’re finding all sorts of stuff like coolers, drink containers and food wrappers. I just can’t believe that people can be this careless.”
Another project participant — Senator John Miller, D-Va. 1st District — acknowledged the significance of concerned citizens giving up their Saturday morning to do something positive for the environment. “I’m especially impressed by the number of youths that are out here participating,” he said as he trudged across the sand to help pick up trash near the seawall along Fenwick Road. “This really is a total community effort … the young and old are out here in the heat getting this done because it’s important to them. I know I wanted to get involved today because this project follows a principle I have always believed in; that we owe it to future generations to leave this world a better place than the way we found it.”
Some of the youngsters that the senator alluded to were representing Girl Scout Troop 332 from Chesapeake. During a recent meeting, they were given the choice of participating in several community service projects, according to troop leader Diane Hinman. The decision to join the fort’s Clean the Bay Day initiative was unanimous.
“And there was no discussion about giving up some of their weekend or having to pick up trash; it was an automatic response: ‘this is what we want to do,’” Hinman said. “I’m very proud of them; it just shows that their heart is in the right place.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm that brings smiles to the faces of staff workers at the post Environmental Division. They were also a bit awestruck as they gazed upon the truckload of accumulated junk at the end of the project. Some of the final tallies of the day included: 423 cigarette butts; 1,632 pieces of plastic; 497 pieces of Styrofoam/polystyrene cups, food containers, etc.; 327 pieces of aluminum or metal containers; and approximately 378 pieces of construction debris/lumber.
“The real success story, though, is the number of Families and business groups (like Centennial Enterprises, Inc.) who teamed up to help us do something positive for the environment,” Wesson said. “That’s where the really big cleanup project starts — folks wanting to make a difference and realizing that pollution of our waterways is still a serious problem. When you really think about it, the fact that we accumulated 2,500 pounds of garbage from the 4.5 miles of beach around Fort Monroe is sort of unfortunate. It tells us that we need to do a lot better job of picking up after ourselves.”