1. Environment

Volunteers work to stem tide of Fourth of July trash at Tampa's Cypress Point Park

Land O’Lakes’ Monica Laffler and her daughters pick up trash along the beach at Cypress Point Park in Tampa on July 5. (Ben Leonard | Times)
Land O’Lakes’ Monica Laffler and her daughters pick up trash along the beach at Cypress Point Park in Tampa on July 5. (Ben Leonard | Times)
Published Jul. 5, 2019

TAMPA — With clear waters, sweet-smelling air, white sand beaches, grills and a landscape view of Old Tampa Bay, Cypress Point Park is a favorite for Fourth of July revelers.

By the next morning, fireworks, beer cans and even American flags are usually strewn across the park, said Debbie Evenson, executive director of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.

That's why a team of volunteers was there Friday, one of three cleanups Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful runs in the park throughout the year.

Alan Donn, board member of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and park site coordinator, said the mess really "depends on the weather the night before."

Photo gallery: Fourth of July across Tampa Bay

Rain the past two years has put a damper on festivities at the park near Tampa International Airport, but fireworks, condoms and flip flops could all be found.

Roughly 60 volunteers — most of them families — showed up, according to Dorothy Holle, Alan's wife, who has helped him with volunteering for more than 25 years.

The job got done in "record time" after city officials passed out trash bags to people at the park celebrating the Fourth of July, which helped cut down on litter, said Julio Barrera, a team supervisor with the The City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department. Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful is sponsored in part by Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa.

Over the years, the events Donn has coordinated have picked up roughly 190,000 pounds of trash. In February, Donn was presented with a national award from Keep America Beautiful for his work in the park, which used to be an de-facto trash dump.

Just before the turn of the century, abandoned washing machines and tires made the property where the park is now an "unfenced, open dump that people put stuff in," Donn said. It was "a pretty beach, but a party beach," Donn told the Tampa Bay Times in April, one that needed help. He wanted to do something about it.

He found out it was privately owned. At the time, Donn was the chair of the Sierra Club, so through the organization's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, Tampa was able to purchase the land. Donn's first cleanup came in 1998, starting with 48 volunteers, he said. It was dedicated as a park in 2008, Donn said.

Now, the 35-acre park has a disc golf course, grills, a playground, restrooms and more.

"It's amazing to see the park today compared to what it was: mounds of trash and dirt," Holle said.

Donn hopes that these cleanup efforts can cut down on the plastics that get washed out to sea, some of which end up massive plastic patches in the ocean.

"It affects everybody — the critters as well as humans," Donn said.

Scott Neumeister and his daughter Catherine, 15, of Tampa, found many Reese's wrappers along the water. He said they didn't find many big items, but picked up a lot of little things, like cigarette butts.

Catherine, who was volunteering at the park for the first time, said she got involved because a lot of people claim that plastics or junk in the ocean aren't a problem. She wanted to help clean it up.

Monica Laffler of Land O' Lakes and her daughters Alli, 12, and Emma, 8, volunteered to help fulfill school service hours and enjoyed the cleanup.

"It's great to give back and help the environment," Laffler said.

Dominique Martinez, the CEO of Tampa welding art company Rustic Steel Creations, had a no-nonsense reason for volunteering.

"It's the common sense thing to do," Martinez said. "You see dirt, you clean it up."