One-hundred bags of litter. Dozens of large Styrofoam packing pieces. Eight metal shopping carts. Eight tires. One car door. A child’s toy sailboat.

The items were identified in an inventory of trash the South Portland Land Trust made after Saturday’s citywide Earth Day cleanup, which drew a record attendance.

From Bug Light and Hinckley Park to Pleasantdale Cove and Firefighter’s Memorial Park, about 150 residents fanned out across the city to pick up litter at 18 sites.

“The cleanup went exceptionally well and we had a huge turnout, especially compared to last year,” said City Councilor Tom Blake, a founder of the nonprofit land trust. “I didn’t expect that many people. There were many families, a lot of children and a lot of senior citizens.”

Although the annual cleanups have been undertaken for more than 20 years, they typically draw about two dozen volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves and spend several hours picking up discarded drink cups, cigarette butts, plastic shopping bags, motor oil containers, glass bottles, tires and other assorted trash.

The high participation in South Portland reflected big turnouts at Earth Day cleanups across the nation. In dozens of U.S. cities, volunteers picked up litter, nonprofits planted trees and businesses sponsored events like car-battery recycling drop-offs.

In South Portland, organizations that included Planet Dog, Cool South Portland and the South Portland Dog Owners Group took part in clearing debris from parks, playgrounds, beaches and the greenbelt. But most of the volunteers were individual residents and families.

Blake worked with a map at the land trust’s makeshift “headquarters” at Mill Creek Park, sending teams of people – often families with children – to identified sites.

Participants were given trash bags, donated by the city, as well as gardening gloves, which they were asked to return to the land trust.

“Our team pulled 23 bags of trash from the greenbelt,” said volunteer Jeff Ryan, a land trust member.

“We found a tire, an orange barrel, barbed wire, plastic bottles and tons of cigarette butts,” said Ryan, who used a poke stick to pick up a lot of the debris. “What was wonderful was that people using the greenbelt on Saturday thanked us. They seemed really grateful to have us out there.”

J.P. Thornton’s – the sandwich shop and market at Evans Street and Broadway – donated its Dumpster for many of the trash bags and several participants took bags of litter home.

The city’s Public Works Department was scheduled to pick up the bulk of garbage this week at specified sites in South Portland.

Volunteers were sent to many of the open spaces that remain in South Portland, which has undergone tremendous growth in the past 20 years.

They included the entire greenbelt, popular with walkers, joggers and bicyclists each summer; Bug Light Park; Old Joe’s Pond in Ferry Village; Mill Creek Park; the grounds of the public library; the 49-acre Hinckley Park; and Thomas Knight Park, at the end of Waterman Drive.

About 40 members of the South Portland Dog Owners Group (DOG) turned out at Hinckley Park, a wooded area popular with hikers and pet owners.

Cyrstal Goodrich, president of DOG, said her group picked up paper, cans, bottles, nails, tires, plant pots, a rusted wheelbarrow, and “an ancient car door… The pile was substantial.”

She said “the amount of broken glass was concerning,” and she urged members to continue picking up litter when they return to the park for their regular visits.

Other sites cleared included some hidden gems and areas not visible from the road. One crew cleared trash from an area long known as Glass Beach, near Thomas Knight Park and the South Port Marina.

Another group walked through the Mill Cove Preserve, a 1-acre site next to Hannaford supermarket.

“I was impressed by how deep people went into sites,” Blake said. “One guy found an old car battery that he thinks had been discarded years ago. People felt excited about cleaning up their city.”

Ryan also headed over to the newly opened Clark’s Pond Trail, near Home Depot, where he picked up three bags of litter and added new maps to the site’s kiosk.

Ryan said he was stunned by the amount of plastic cups and Styrofoam cups from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts that had apparently blown on to the wooded Clark’s Pond trail.

Dunkin’ Donuts, located across from the Maine Mall, has a popular drive-through store. Ryan said he thinks a lot of motorists throw the cups from their vehicles.

On Monday morning, Ryan was in the process of writing a letter to the corporate offices of Dunkin’ Donuts, urging the company to switch to paper cups for all its beverages. Styrofoam is not recyclable. Likewise, Ryan said, he noticed a lot of plastic cups Dunkin’ Donuts uses for its frozen drinks.

“With paper cups, at least there is a chance that the debris will degrade,” said Ryan, who said he was writing to Dunkin’ Donuts “as a citizen, not as a land trust member.”

“With the Styrofoam cups, they eventually start to fall apart and these tiny balls of Styrofoam end up in our oceans and streams. If Starbucks can use paper cups, I figure Dunkin’ Donuts can, too.”

Resident Steve Jocher, who is a Planning Board member, turned the Earth Day cleanup into a neighborhood event. Jocher, a member of the land trust, invited his neighbors and their children to meet at his house and then head to the greenbelt that runs behind J.P. Thorton’s to Wainwright Field.

“We had a total of 17 people and about half were kids,” Jocher said. “It was a great way to instill lessons about taking care of our environment.”

Jocher said he was stunned by the amount of trash that the group found – including a lot of disposable food wrappers and plastic shopping bags.

Jocher said he is concerned that trash may be blowing from Dumpsters at commercial businesses into the woods.

“People who saw us out were all so thankful,” said Jocher, whose wife and two young daughters also helped with the cleanup.

Jocher chairs the governance committee of the land trust, and hopes to form a committee that will try to grow the Earth Day cleanup for next year, involving businesses as well. He said that volunteers rallied around the Earth Day event, and some of his neighbors expressed interest in joining the land trust.

“One of the participants joined that day,” Jocher said. “This was a great activity. It was a family event.”


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