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Keeping the San Juans Beautiful

Getting together to give back on National Public Lands Day

Every year, the San Juan Islands host a Great Islands Cleanup in September for National Public Lands Day.  As a staff, we’ve gotten together to volunteer in other places around the community in previous years. This year, we’ve been focused more than ever on stewardship and the impact of tourism on the Islands; so we decided to pick up litter along the trail to Deadman’s Bay from Lime Kiln Point State Park.  Donning gloves and old clothes, with trash bags and grabbers in the back, we set out from town. It felt good to get away from the office--have conversations that didn’t revolve around work.

The trail itself was reasonably tidy, so we spread out to check around the picnic tables and down towards the rocks. Deborah got caught up finding pieces of Styrofoam, most no bigger than a fingernail. Erin earned the intrepid award by nimbly clambering over the rocks to grab the hard-to-reach things we spotted like a bright blue plastic ribbon tucked in a crevice. The easiest item found, and probably the most random, was a single hiking shoe lying next to one of the tables. This naturally led to speculation on how one loses a single shoe without noticing.

National Public Lands Day Cleanup 2019 by Amy Nesler

There weren’t many other people out on this September morning, but everyone we encountered were visitors to the island. Rather than the usual casual “hi” when passing on the trail, they thanked us for the effort. One dad and his son even briefly joined in, adding some plastic fragments from the beach to Erin’s bag. Such visibility of locals caring for the islands sparked thoughtful conversation about our personal impacts on this big blue ball we call home.

The beach at Deadman’s Bay isn’t large, but the abundant driftwood and kelp make excellent screens for trapping trash. It’s also a popular spot for commercial kayak tours to haul out and take a break. Since the San Juans are a Leave No Trace Area, we didn’t think there’d be much detritus from those groups. It seemed like most of the trash we were finding washed in with the tide rather than left there by beach-goers. Though no one wanted to speculate on the origins of the plastic tampon applicators (yes, more than one!) we found.   

National Public Lands Day cleanup 2019 (2) by Amy Nesler
National Public Lands Day cleanup 2019 (2) by Amy Nesler

When Erin found a black ball, we joked it was left over from the days of pirates marauding on the Salish Sea, perhaps smuggling treasure back to Canada. There is a Smuggler’s Cove on San Juan Island, after all. Not long after, when Deborah came up with a mangled Nerf™ ball, Erin challenged her to “make the basket” into her garbage bag. Proof that giving back can be a fun bonding experience.

Overall, there was a feeling of pleasure at how little trash we were finding, in comparison to other places. Whether this was because of the tidal patterns, the relative cleanliness of the water, or the care taken by visitors to the beach, or all of the above, we couldn’t tell.  Talking with other volunteers at the trash drop-off, we learned that around 300 pounds of trash had been collected across the island.  

But over and above that was a sense of accomplishment that we left Deadman’s Bay better than before and had fun doing it. I know this is something I’ll continue to do on my future trips to the beach or trail because it’s such an easy way to give back—no need to wait for the next Great Islands Cleanup or National Public Lands Day.  

National Public Lands Day Cleanup 2019 by Amy Nesler
Jakle's Lagoon by National Park Service

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