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Volunteers help keep Fort De Soto Park tidy in Pinellas

George and Anita Kooyman pick up palm fronds to carry away on a golf cart on a foggy December morning. The fronds are taken to a remote location in Fort De Soto Park, where they are incinerated.

PATTI EWALD | Times Correspondent

George and Anita Kooyman pick up palm fronds to carry away on a golf cart on a foggy December morning. The fronds are taken to a remote location in Fort De Soto Park, where they are incinerated.

TIERRA VERDE

Several times a week, George Kooyman motors around Fort De Soto Park in a golf cart, stopping and starting, picking up palm fronds and other brush the winds have blown down.

The job isn't a far reach for the Tierra Verde retiree, who moved down from the Washington, D.C., area four years ago.

He worked for 40 years as a gardener at National Geographic magazine headquarters.

It is different, however, in that it isn't a job — not one for pay, at least.

Kooyman and his wife, Anita, are among the dozens of volunteers who have picked up the slack after downsizing at the county park left too few people to do too many tasks.

Jim Wilson, park supervisor, said volunteer hours are at record numbers.

"We went from 240 to 1,000 volunteer hours a month in the last two months," Wilson said. "Those are very good numbers."

The park pays its staff to do the dirtiest of the jobs — cleaning the 186 toilets and 166 sinks scattered throughout the park.

But it's the volunteers who are responsible for what visitors see — or don't see — at the Pinellas County treasure. They pick up man's and nature's trash.

Kooyman is typical of the new volunteers. He said he had been coming to the park for 15 months before reading about the need for volunteers. It was then that he decided to be more than just a regular at the park.

Groups are also involved, often helping out keeping the picnic tables in tip-top shape, Wilson said.

An Eagle Scout doing a leadership project organized helpers to construct 10 picnic tables and to refurbish 20 more.

A group from Walmart comes out and does projects like painting picnic tables, Wilson said, and the company, in turn, donates to Friends of Fort De Soto based on the number of employee volunteer hours.

There is also a contingent from Eckerd College that donates its time.

"In the old days, we would assemble and replace 100 picnic tables in the winter months. We can't do that anymore," Wilson said.

And what would Wilson and Kooyman tell those who regularly use the park?

"We can always use more help. We need everything from nature guides to those who clean the facilities," Wilson said.

Kooyman had words of advice.

"They should pick up after themselves.

"Many parks don't even have trash cans. You have to bring a bag and take home the trash you bring. They don't realize how lucky they are to have trash cans."

By the numbers | Fort De Soto

463 tons of garbage in fiscal 2009

70 tons of garbage in busiest month, May

27 tons of garbage on busiest weekend, Memorial Day

56

structures in the park

3,000 parking

spaces

1,175 picnic

tables

186

toilets

166

sinks

96 showers in

campground

Volunteers help keep Fort De Soto Park tidy in Pinellas 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6:11pm]

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