A popular volunteer program aimed at cleaning up Clam Bayou Nature Park has run out of grant money, prompting concern from residents and community leaders about future efforts to preserve the wildlife estuary.
Kurt Zuelsdorf, owner of Kayak Nature Adventures in Gulfport, said he can no longer afford to continue the Bring Back the Bayou program, which provided free kayak rentals to volunteers willing to clean up trash and debris in the estuary.
"I'm out of money," Zuelsdorf said. "I'm broke."
During the program's span, volunteers recovered 11,000 pounds of trash from Clam Bayou's murky canals, including 25 automobile tires, 15 shopping carts, six bicycles and a motorcycle.
Bring Back the Bayou earned statewide attention and helped foster discussion about whether the secluded estuary had been neglected by officials in St. Petersburg and Gulfport. "He has helped to bring attention to the problem," Gulfport City Manager Tom Brobeil said of Zuelsdorf.
The bayou has been overrun with untreated stormwater and trash that runs off into the estuary from nearby Gulfport and St. Petersburg neighborhoods for years. Attempts by local and state officials to divert the pollution have been unsuccessful.
In March, Zuelsdorf received a $3,512 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to pay for the volunteers' kayak rentals, trash bags and equipment to conduct the cleanups. Three afternoons a week, he offered an hour of free kayak rental in exchange for one bag of trash collected from the bayou. After the grant money ran out in April, Zuelsdorf subsidized the free kayak rentals from his own profits. But on May 9, he discontinued the program.
Now that volunteers will not be canvassing Clam Bayou three times a week, other environmental groups are stepping in to try to keep up Zuelsdorf's momentum.
A massive Clam Bayou cleanup was scheduled for Saturday, sponsored in part by the cities of St. Petersburg and Gulfport, Kayak Nature Adventures and the Green Armada Foundation, a Tampa Bay-based cleanup organization that has recently focused its efforts on the estuary.
"This Clam Bayou thing is really a disgusting mess," said Mark Maksimowicz, a founder of the Green Armada. "This cleanup will do no good unless there is a weekly effort back there."
Gulfport will continue its twice a year cleanups of the bayou, Brobeil said. The Green Armada has started cleaning the area once a week.
Zuelsdorf hopes to continue his efforts with the help of corporate sponsors. But because his business is a for-profit organization, it can be difficult to persuade organizations to donate, he said. Most recently, he started giving discounts to kayak renters willing to bring back trash. Instead of charging the regular $15 fee, he only charges them $7. He also has asked businesses to rent a fleet of kayaks and donate the rental time to volunteers. "This is a simple program that works, so why not continue it?" he said. "It is something that people can do, and when they are finished cleaning up, they can say, 'Wow, look what I did.' "
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.