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COASTAL CLEANUP HELPERS DO WHAT MESSMAKERS DON'T

Volunteers spend a morning plucking garbage from popular nature spots on the waterfront.

Beer bottles. Styrofoam cups. An old shoe.

Not the kind of stuff that visitors enjoy seeing when they come to the Weekiwachee Preserve. But there the items were, tossed thoughtlessly along the water's edge, and spoiling the beauty of an otherwise pristine natural area.

For 15-year-old Marc Dolinski, it was a terrible sight.

"This is such a nice place," he said. "Makes you wonder why people want to mess it up."

Such thoughts were on the minds of group of 10 volunteers from the Nature Coast Parrot Head Club as they scoured the park in search of trash Saturday as part of the Ocean Conservancy's 2009 International Coastal Cleanup Day.

An annual event in Hernando County since 1989, the cleanup was sponsored locally this year by the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 15-8 of Hernando Beach and drew about two dozen volunteers who patrolled popular waterfront spots in and around Hernando Beach, Bayport and Weeki Wachee.

"It may be an annual event, but this is something that could probably be done every week in our area," said event organizer Laurel Rood, who serves as the auxiliary's marine safety officer. "It seems to get worse every year."

Armed with plastic bags and heavy work gloves, volunteers Stacy Wybrand and Tom Zurch hit the thick marshlands surrounding Bayport Park shortly after 8 a.m. in search of trash. They didn't have to look hard. The park, which saw overflow traffic during the recent Labor Day weekend, provided an ample number of targets.

Wading into the thicket, Wybrand spied a trash bag that seemed easy to retrieve.

"This is so yucky," she shouted as she grabbed a crumpled plastic bag filled with what looked like rotting food inside.

"I would just love to find the person who pitched this right now."

Kristen Sonnier, 13, said she was surprised at the amount of trash she and her mother found inside the Weekiwachee Preserve.

"Most people don't realize how much littering goes on," she said. "At least not until you spend a day cleaning it up."

Hernando residents who missed out on this cleanup have another opportunity to get involved during the National Public Lands Day cleanup, which will take place from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at various locations throughout the county. Help is needed with trash and debris removal, planting cypress trees, clearing fence lines, removal of invasive non-native plants and maintenance of walking trails.

Sites include Pine Island Drive, the Springs Coast Environmental Center, the Fickett Hammock Preserve, the Perry Oldenburg Mitigation Area, the Silver Lake Recreation Complex and the Richloam Tract of the Withlacoochee Forest.

After the cleanup, a picnic will be held for volunteers at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

To Help

Join in Saturday

Another cleanup, part of National Public Lands Day, will be from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at various locations around Hernando County. To sign up for a work site, call Becky Brown at (352) 754-6722 or send e-mail to rebecca.brown@MyFWC.com. Details are available at www.publiclandsday.org.

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