Clean the Bay Day: Clean Virginia, Part 2

Jun 4, 2015

Saturday is the 27th annual Clean the Bay day sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. WMRA’s Kara Lofton reports.

The annual Clean the Bay Day is one of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s biggest community outreach and awareness events.  Tanner Council is a grassroots coordinator for the foundation.

TANNER COUNCIL: Clean the Bay day is a statewide, litter cleanup. It is in its 27th year and at this point it’s a real Virginia tradition. We have between 6 and 7,000 people come out each year for the first Saturday in June to pick up litter in nearby streams, tributaries, and beaches, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Litter in the watershed can come in the form of cigarette butts, plastic bottles or discarded grocery bags. It can also include bigger items such as tires, old car parts, refrigerators and shopping carts. 

COUNCIL: I think it’s important to note that people don’t walk over to a water body and throw it in there, it comes off the land. And everything that happens on land ultimately affects the water, that’s just the way water works, it’s always moving downstream.

Littering is illegal throughout the watershed, but it’s still a big problem. Last year, volunteers across Virginia removed more than 110,000 pounds of debris from the commonwealth’s streams and shorelines.

There are fourteen Clean the Bay sites in central and western Virginia this year. Three are paddle only sites, (participants pick up litter inaccessible from shore by using boats). The rest are accessible by foot and are family friendly. One such site is Pollock’s Branch at S. First Street in Charlottesville. Chris Gensic, the Parks and Trails planner for the city, is the host at that location. 

CHRIS GENSIC: Our creeks and streams here all flow into the Rivanna River, which ends up in the James and down into the bay. So what we typically do is get as many volunteers as we can, provide them gloves and trash bags and they pick up any trash they can find along the banks of the creeks or in the water itself and then we haul it to the local material recycling center.

Saturday is also National Trails Day, which is billed as “the country’s largest celebration of trails.” For Gensic, the two ideas, National Trails Day and Clean the Bay Day are intricately connected because they both help people take ownership of the resources they have. He said when the public has better access to natural spaces people tend to care more about them. There is also a social pressure aspect: with more people around, there tends to be less litter and more awareness about litter.

In addition, Council points out all the pollution that we can’t see.

COUNCIL: Litter is visible pollution, so pollution you can see. There are lots of unseen and even more insidious pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorous, and of course sediment, which you actually can see after a big rain event - we can see muddy water. These are the primary pollutants that are threatening the health of the bay and many of its tributaries. This program brings attention to the stress of our waterways. So Clean the Bay Day is a gateway program in many ways to introduce people to the idea of stewardship and shows there’s something they can do on an individual level.