GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rianna White emerged from the thicket under the bridge at U.S. 17 at Black Creek with a white 13-gallon bag filled with garbage Saturday morning. Moments later, the 16-year-old …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rianna White emerged from the thicket under the bridge at U.S. 17 at Black Creek with a white 13-gallon bag filled with garbage Saturday morning. Moments later, the 16-year-old student from Middleburg High had a new empty bag and she disappeared back into the overgrowth to collect another load.
White was one of 263 who volunteered to pick up trash and debris at three different locations along the St. Johns River and its tributaries in Clay County.
“It’s not clean,” she said. “It’s sad.”
The St. Johns River Celebration is held annually. Volunteers met at the Knight’s Boat Ramp at the Black Creek bridge, Whitey’s Fish Camp on Fleming Island and at the Main Street Boat Ramp in Middleburg and collected more than 4,720 pounds of garbage from the waterways before noon, Clay County Coordinator Tania Jolley said.
“It was a major success, a huge success,” Jolley said. “You couldn’t have asked for more. There are so many other things they could have been doing, but instead they were out there helping. This wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers.”
This year’s Celebration competed locally with Spring Break, The Players Championship golf tournament and the Gatornationals drag race. And yet, 263 volunteers combined to work 789 hours to clean up the county’s waterways.
A competition between Ridgeview and Middleburg highs was a big reason for the good turnout. Ridgewood won the friendly rivalry by enlisting the help of 27 students.
“The Celebration helps people to understand how the river system is interconnected,” Jolley said. “What each of us does in one part of the watershed, which is the 12,400 square-mile area from which water drains into the river and its surrounding ecosystems, affects the entire river.
“Throughout its watershed and all along the St. Johns River, people work at cleanup sites and help raise awareness of river issues to foster a year-round appreciation of this precious resource – Florida’s longest river.”
White’s yellow T-shirt was covered with splotches of sweat and dirt. But that didn’t stop her from making trudging through the mud and lapping shoreline several times. Can-by-can, bottle-by-bottle, each filled bag represented a commitment to restoring the beauty in her own little spot on the state’s biggest river.
“We have to clean this up,” she said. “I’ve found all sorts of things, like toilet bowl cleaner and some auto coolant. It’s amazing what people throw away.”
White also stumbled up a dead alligator on the Black Creek shoreline.
Lisa Grayer is a 19-year-old student at St. Johns River State College in Orange Park also made several trips, tromping her own trail through the thick vegetation to add to the large pile of garage.
“Lots of Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles and beer cans,” Grayer said.
Grayer is a member of her school’s Science Club. Her dedication to the county’s watershed went beyond beauty.
“There’s a lot to be concerned about,” she said. “We catch fish in this river. You don’t want pollutants in there, too.”
Jolley said one of the leading factors that contributes to the littering is unsecured trash that falls or flies from the beds of pickup trucks.
Other unique objects found by volunteers included car tires, large aquatic buoys and furniture. The response was so successful, volunteers over-flowed a construction dumpster with trash at the Knight’s Boat Ramp.
The Celebration started 22 years ago, and it’s attracted 10,745 volunteers and been responsible for the collection of more than 303,151 pounds of trash and debris.