When I saw that Cox Enterprises, Inc. (Cox) had sent volunteers to Blue Cypress Park and Reddie Point Preserve for cleanups with National River Cleanup the past two years, I became nervous. Would the volunteers be bored of the site? Would there be enough trash? After two years of highly successful cleanups, would the third year be a big disappointment?
To help answer some of these questions, I went to the cleanup sites the day before to scout out the trash situation. What first caught my attention was the beauty of the parks and the river. Both parks include acres and acres of natural areas, trails, and piers that go far out into the St. Johns River. What I noticed second, and was distressed by, was the amount of trash in the park, and specifically right along the water. I was baffled by the way people were able to pollute the natural areas around them. While I was disheartened by the amount of trash at the parks, the cleanup the next day brought a complete mood shift for me.
When I arrived early at the registration site in Blue Cypress Park, volunteers from Cox Media Group Jacksonville and Manheim Jacksonville had already begun setting up tables with reusable water bottles, trash bags, and other materials for the cleanup. Soon, volunteers began trickling in; then arriving in mass quantities. We ended up with almost 80 volunteers, many of which had come out in previous years. While signing in volunteers, a smile came across my face when I overheard one woman say she had been waiting for this cleanup all year after hearing her colleagues’ fun stories from past cleanups. These volunteers truly embodied the spirit of Cox Conserves.
Even with uncharacteristically hot and humid weather, volunteers continued to arrive, excited to get to work. After drinking some coffee, catching up with their colleagues, and getting a quick introduction to the cleanup and safety instructions, volunteers split off to their sites. About 10-15 volunteers headed to Reddie Point Preserve to tackle the trash there, while the rest of the volunteers marched down the road to the shoreline at Blue Cypress Park. Some volunteers got an early start on the river cleanup, picking up trash they found throughout the park.
Once the volunteers reached the main cleanup site, people dispersed even further, reaching remote parts of the shoreline and finding hidden pieces of trash I had even missed the day before while walking through the park. Some of the younger volunteers and their parents brought out empty trash bags to volunteers who had already filled theirs and carried the full bags back to the starting point. While on the boardwalk, I spotted two especially enthusiastic volunteers hopping over the rail to reach trash several feet below that I had assumed we would have to leave behind. One first-time volunteer couldn’t stop himself from searching for small pieces of trash he overlooked on his way out even as the cleanup was coming to a close and volunteers were gathering for lunch.
Passersby on the shoreline stopped and thanked the volunteers for all they were doing, and I couldn’t help but do the same. The enthusiasm and commitment that the Cox team brought to the cleanup was not only invigorating but inspiring. Everyone came back to our meeting spot with smiling faces and full trash bags – the indicator of a successful river cleanup.
At the end of the day the volunteers had removed 780 pounds of trash and recyclable material from the river! The number of returning volunteers from previous years not only shows how much enjoyment volunteers get out of these cleanups, but also how committed Cox volunteers are to cleaner, healthier rivers. National River Cleanup was proud to partner with Cox volunteers St. Johns Riverkeeper for this cleanup and we look forward to returning next year for even more fun!