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Garbage Trappers

David Yon, March 28, 2017

It is such a contrast – these special and beautiful places around Tallahassee that become nearly covered with litter and trash. We all know how lucky we are in Tallahassee and surrounding areas to have such great places to run, bike and enjoy the great outdoors.  Many of these places, however, give up “pristine” to become the “garbage trappers.”

Tallahassee is part of an ecosystem that easily stretches its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Trash up a street after a party on campus at Florida State University and there are bottles, cans and worst of all plastics of all kind that will eventually find their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Throw those empty gu energy packs on the trail and they will be in the water stream before you sleep that night. Moderating all of this, hopefully, is the area’s storm water management system.  Hopefully, before reaching the Gulf, the debris will spend a few years in places like Lake Elberta, Lake Henrietta and the holding pond on the corner of Kissimmee St. and the Tallahassee - St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail (“St. Marks Trail”). (Or better yet, find its way out of that system and into an appropriate landfill.)  In addition to our naturally occurring underground flow of water (where rivers disappear under the ground and reappear a few miles away, where springs appear from far below the surface to create rivers that are (or once were) crystal clear, and swamps where you cannot tell where the land starts) we have built an enormous holding ponds and reshaped existing lakes and ponds.  While it generally protects against flooding, and helps clean the water before it reaches our rivers, lakes and oceans, the system can also exacerbate the waste and garbage problems.  In some ways you can say the same about a haven like the St. Marks Trail. These systems act as a corridor through which our litter and garbage move.   At their worst, the lakes, the trail and the holding pond leave you wondering if you can join something other than the human race; something that does not produce such filth.   But at their best they are beautiful parts of our city and great places to run.   To be at their best though, they need help.  They need helping stopping the flow of garbage and litter into the water and help getting it out after it does get in.

Keep Florida Beautiful (KFB), Keep Tallahassee Beautiful (KTB), the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Bend and Gulf Winds Track Club (led by Vice President Paul Guyas), spent Saturday morning together disrupting this flow of garbage.  GWTC members Nancy Stedman and Jay Silvanima have had a spot in their hearts for Lake Elberta for a long time and were eager to help out.  As co-race directors for the Tallahassee Marathon for many years, they organized clean up days several times as some of these areas bordered the marathon course.  This time, however, the KFB and KTB teams brought in a big volunteer force.  Mary Jean Yon (my wife) and Diana Hanson are the executive directors for KFB and KLB, respectfully and this outing was their brainchild.  Other GWTC volunteers included Gene Opheim and John McCoy who literally filled up a pick-up truck with trash removed from the holding pond on Kissimmee Street.  Kacy Dennis and 15 or so kids and staff or board members (Todd Sumner and Dawn Krow) worked hard at Lake Elberta.

On Saturday March 25,  the morning started with a one-mile run around Lake Elberta (approximately a lap and a quarter around the lake) and ended with bags and bags of garbage pulled up from the  water and from around the shores.  It was quite a lesson about how large the volume of the flow of litter into lakes like Elberta is, especially the flow of the nearly indestructible plastic.  It is immediately evident how it can harm the wildlife in the lake; in fact, it is amazing how birds, turtles and other animals survive at all. 

The most amazing litter, if I can say it that way, the group pulled out was the plastic.  It very well might be the most deadly.  I ran out of time trying to research some about plastics, but I know the answers are all bad.  So much of the plastic made in the world finds it second use on the planet to be litter.  It does not break down and go away for 500-1000 years, but it can poison and kill.  And it does break down into tiny bits, known as microplastics, that are consumed by all kinds of life forms, including humans.  Our oceans are being choked by plastic with the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” perhaps the most lethal.  In research presented at the American Chemical Society in 2013 by Lorena M. Rios Mendoza, Ph.D., and colleagues, found that samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 and 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.  The Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of plastic, is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

When the cleanup crews were done on Saturday, Lake Elberta and the St. Marks Trail holding pond looked much better than they did before the crews started.  Of course, the Great Garbage Patch was no smaller. The work left to be done in this area is still overwhelming. But it was a good day and no doubt some of the places where we run (and live) are better off as are we.