TAMPA — After two hours plodding through dense mangroves to pick up trash in the Great American Cleanup, Andrew James said he'll think twice about littering.
Just Friday, Andrew, 17, rolled down the window of his parents' car and threw out a Mountain Dew bottle. Nobody was around, and he didn't want to trash their car.
Then on Saturday, instead of sleeping in, he joined his Jefferson High School ROTC classmates at about 8 a.m. to clean Cypress Point Park with about 130 other volunteers.
"It was hard work, but it was worth it," he said.
About 3,000 people across Hillsborough County picked up thousands of pounds of trash Saturday. The exact tonnage wasn't immediately available, but Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful executive director Christine Commerce guess they gathered about 60,000 pounds.
The weirdest item found may have been a dog's leg. Yes, just the leg, said Commerce, who led the Courtney Campbell Causeway site, where the furry leg was found.
At Cypress Point Park, Andrew and his friends ducked under branches and climbed down steep dunes to get through the mangroves. They found a barnacle-covered truck tire and 10-foot pieces of lumber, along with dozens of plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups and aluminum cans.
And although they suffered scrapes and scratches, they said they were tough enough to handle the job.
"We left the easier parts for the Brownie troops," said ROTC commander Bruce Lamping.
The cleanups are held twice a year and, in just six months, tons of trash washes onto beaches, gets stuck in mangroves and is tossed out car windows. This year, volunteers went to about 40 sites across the county.
At Cypress Point Park in the Westshore area, the volunteers picked up several truckloads worth of trash. The mess was more manageable than when the city of Tampa bought the site about 15 years ago, said longtime cleanup volunteer Alan Donn.
"Back then, it was a real dump," he said. Volunteers found washing machines and dozens of tires.
This year, the cleanup coordinators provided clear bags for recyclable items. Before, all the trash was lumped together because recycling centers couldn't process the often dirty, barnacle-covered material, Commerce said. This year, CONEX Recycling volunteered to pick up the recyclables and give it a try.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.