County Clean Communities Coordinator Pam Tidswell, left, showing volunteers a map of where they will be picking up litter
By Joseph Busler
More than 60 people of all ages showed up at Pennington Park Saturday morning for the fourth annual county-sponsored spring cleanup of the Rancocas Creek shoreline along Pennington Park and Newton's Landing.
Sign-up was held in Pennington Park starting at 8:30 a.m. and the volunteers picked up litter between 9 a.m. and noon.
The volunteers were of all ages. The oldest probably came from Newton's Landing, whose participants included Paul Zaun of Pennington Court, Peter Silverberg of Wolverton Place, Walt Cincotta of Russ Farm Way, Chris and Joyce Kloss of McCay Way, and Joseph Busler, also of Pennington Court.
The 56 volunteers from around the county (local residents and families, as well as groups including: 4H club, Cub Scouts, students from Gloucester County Institute of Technology, and Delanco, Rancocas Valley Regional, and Cinnaminson High schools), collected 2500 lbs. of debris and 19 tires along the shoreline of the Rancocas Creek. Items made of plastic – bottles and bottle caps – topped the list of collected materials. Many students, Scouts and other youth participated to earn community service credits for school.
County park workers with John Deere Gators – small utility vehicles -- drove along the trail to collect bags of trash and heavy items and transported them to a Dumpster. They also retrieved some items that were too heavy for the volunteers to extract from the creek bed.
Whole families showed up, parents with children from their teens to kindergarten-age in tow.
The weather was ideal: neither too warm or too cold, and predicted showers turned out to be sunshine. Ticks are still hibernating; insects have not emerged; and vegetation that would hide the trash has not yet broken ground. As usual, the cleanup was conducted during low tide to maximize access to the creek bed.
Evidence was abundant that we are winning the war against litter. The amount of trash collected each successive year has diminished.
In March of 2011, the first time the county-sponsored cleanup was held here, the volunteers and county park workers collected seven tons, or 330 cubic yards, of debris, much of it large drums, old tires and similar heavy waste that had been accumulating for as long as the Russ family farmed the land.
The next year, in 2012, the cleanup yielded 4.5 tons two Dumpsters full of filled trash bags, barrels, tires, and other debris that floated, blew or was thrown along the bank of the Rancocas Creek.
In 2013, the cleanup filled two dumpsters with 2.5 tons of litter including bottles, cans, barrels, toys, and plastic bags.
This time, less than one Dumpster was filled, and, apart from a dozen or two tires, very little of the heavy litter like barrels earlier cleanups yielded.
That is what you call success.
But, as long as humans continue to infest the earth, water runs downhill, and the tide continue to ebb and flow, there will be new litter to be collected every spring.
Prior to 1911, Newton's Landing conducted its own cleanup, with considerable success. But, lacking the county's resources and pool of volunteers, we were unable to tackle the heavy stuff such as barrels stuck in the muck and huge truck tires, and we did not go into the park.
One particularly annoying type of litter is popping up with increased frequency: dog poop preserved in knotted plastic bags that were thrown from the Rancocas Trail towards the creek. Dog owners: Kudos for picking it up, but you're supposed to take it home and put it in the trash.
As usual, some of the trash was bewildering: a heavy, yellow metal sphere with an icepick-like spike sticking out of it; a small rubber duck; and a strange contraption consisting of two dog-sized black bathtub-like vessels bolted upside down to a heavy wooden frame. About six feet long, it was too heavy for the volunteers. County workers were going to pull it out with a rope and, maybe, a John Deere Gator.
The cleanup is sponsored by the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders and is conducted by the county's Clean Communities program, coordinated by Pam Tidswell.
Briefing the volunteers in a Pennington Park gazebo before they set out to pick up trash, Tidswell said that cigarette butts are the number-one type of litter found along shorelines, followed by an array of small plastic items.
She held up a bird's nest found in one of the county parks.
“Birds will pick up old fishing line, plastic twine or other litter to make their nests,” she said, pulling out a bit of plastic from the nest. “Then, when their little birds grow up and make their own nests, they will go out and look for the same thing, like their mother taught them.”
The country had bottles of water, apples, bananas, and energy bars to keep the volunteers fueled and hydrated. Giveaways included tote bags and water bottles with environmental slogans on them and “Cigarette Filters Are Litter” bumper stickers.
-- Updated March 17, 2014, with the assistance of Pam Tidswell