When Ocean City held a beach cleanup in the spring, almost 500 people showed up to pick up trash left behind by Hurricane Sandy.
But the crowd was just a bit smaller Sunday, when the town's Environmental Commission sponsored a bay cleanup. About 10 people came out, only a few of them on kayaks, the preferred transportation method to collect trash that washes up on the banks of the local marshes and islands.
Bill Stuempfig, a longtime Ocean City resident who now lives in Tuckahoe - because Sandy wiped out his home on the island - was quick to confirm that a dry beach walk is a much easier idea to sell than a floating trip to haul trash out of the back bay.
"It's more glamorous," Stuempfig said. "But the bay needs it too, a lot after a storm."
His friend, Carol Jones, also of Tuckahoe in Upper Township, added that trash that washes into the bay in storms often ends up floating out through local inlets into the ocean - where the tide then often deposits it on a beach and makes it a cleanup candidate.
But tides can push bay trash two directions, and Jones added that when storms hit Ocean City, the results can also end up near her place in Tuckahoe.
"We get folding chairs, umbrellas, floating docks, swim ladders - we get some good stuff," she said.
Pete Ault, of Ocean City, a regular at both beach and bay cleanups, said part of the appeal of beach cleanups is just easier logistics. No one has to try to borrow a kayak or worry about how to use it safely or keep dry on a cool day, because most people doing beach cleanups can just walk wherever they go.
Ault added that when the Environmental Commission, which he heads, has bayfront cleanups of areas that are accessible on foot, they also tend to draw bigger crowds than these paddle-powered missions.
"The access is easier, and you get more participation," Ault said.
Plus it isn't every beach cleanup that draws 500 people. Laurie Howey, Ocean City's liason with the Environmental Commission, estimated that a beach sweep Saturday sponsored by the state's Clean Communities Council put 100 or so people on the town's beaches to collect trash.
Stuempfig took some of Sunday's bay-based crew out in his motorboat, which also served as the collection craft for everything the volunteers picked up. And in spite of the relatively small number of cleaners, they ended up with an impressive pile of stuff they hauled in, mostly from a small spot of land called Shooting Island, in Great Egg Harbor Bay behind Ocean City's municipal golf course.
They found big hunks of floating plastic foam, a beat-up old tire, plenty of plywood and lumber, and something that Stuempfig found particularly disturbing - a series of cardboard tubes that once held fireworks.
"Most trash is irresponsible. It's not intentional," he said, as he pointed out how the fireworks remains were neatly lined up in a deteriorating row on the edge of Shooting Island. "This to me looks intentional."
Stuempfig is a veteran of many bay cleanups - partly because he acknowledges "an ulterior motive." He spends about 200 days a year on the bays around Ocean City as a kayak guide and sailing teacher, and "I don't want to look at all this trash while I'm out here," he said.
So he has been part of unofficial cleanups for at least 20 years, and these organized bay sweeps for close to 10 years. And even though they don't draw the same kind of interest as beach cleanups, they do important work to clean up the bay.
They also pick up some odd stuff, the cleanup crews added. Take the stained, weather-worn floating rescue ring that's a favorite memory from a cleanup last fall - because of the message it carried, "Welcome to Paradise." Then there was the jagged, torn-up but still-floating hull of a small boat, which, despite all its troubles, was still floating. So the volunteers filled it with more trash, hauled it ashore and got another large piece of junk off their bay.
(For information on future Ocean City bay cleanups, including one tentatively planned for October, call Laurie Howey at 609-525-9285.)
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