Environmental Groups and Communities Join Together to Clear Lake Erie Shoreline

Environmental Groups and Communities Join Together to Clear Lake Erie Shoreline

By: Susan A. Smith

Collecting and inventorying 42,000 pounds of trash from the Lake Erie shoreline and streams is no small feat. Determined watershed and conservation groups, assisted by community volunteers, came together on September 20, 2003 to participate in an international study called the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), the oldest and largest volunteer project of its kind. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Northwest Regional Director Kelly Burch reported, “Over 600 volunteers spent September 20 recording and collecting cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles, old tires and other debris along 37 miles of shoreline.This achievement underscores what can be accomplished by community teamwork.”
As one of the leading organizers of the local cleanup,Waste Management’s Melanie Williams emphasized that the ultimate goal of the activity is to change habits since individual behavior creates most litter and debris found on shorelines. “Volunteers recorded what they found to help us find out what work we need to do together to stop the littering of our shoreline and streams,”Williams said. “Cleanups aren’t truly effective tools in a pollution prevention campaign if they don’t go hand-in-hand with public education. It is education that leads more people to properly dispose of waste.”

The cleanup was staged at ten sites across northern Erie County: Presque Isle State Park; the Elk Creek and Walnut Creek access areas; Walnut Creek at Asbury Woods; the mouth and headwaters of Mill Creek; McDannel Run at Six Mile Creek and Seven Mile Creek; Cascade Creek at Presque Isle Bay and Garrison Run; and North East Marina at Freeport Beach and Twenty Mile Creek.

One of the sites, Raccoon Creek Access Area in Springfield Township, was an illegal dump where debris had been improperly disposed over a period of years. “This is the site that substantially boosted the weight of what we collected since volunteers at Raccoon Creek cleared 332 tires, appliances, couches, batteries and other heavy debris that was not found in big quantities at other sites,” DEP Coastal Zone Manager Don Benczkowski said. “We will be working with Springfield Township and other agencies in the weeks ahead to make sure that we don’t find a similar situation during next year’s International Coastal Cleanup.” Recoverable material was recycled, while collected material that could not be recycled was transported to Lake View Landfill for proper disposal.

In the 2002 ICC, 391,000 volunteers collected and documented the types and quantity of trash found along shorelines in 100 countries. The nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, which runs the international cleanup, reports that the 2002 cleanup volunteers collected 1.64 million cigarettes and cigarette filters and 675,360 food wrappers and containers. Cigarettes and cigarette filters topped the Top 10 list of litter that volunteers worldwide picked up during the 2002 event. The conservancy is still compiling the worldwide information from September’s cleanup.

“About 18,000 area students will use the Erie Times-News in the classroom as part of the Erie Times-News in Education program, which will include activities and talks on preventing pollution,”said Anna McCartney, the Newspaper in Education (NIE) and literacy-projects coordinator for the newspaper.

The 18th annual International Coastal Cleanup is expected not only to make shorelines cleaner, but to get people to start thinking about changing their habits. Each piece of debris that enters oceans or waterways could potentially harm aquatic habitats.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.