By Sue Botos
Most northern Ohio denizens probably would not consider a trip to the Lake Erie shore as an option when November winds whip up the frigid waves.
But for Irv Gerlach and several other area residents, Nov. 10 was the perfect day to visit Rocky River Park, maybe not to enjoy the sand and surf, but to clean up after Superstorm Sandy.
A North Olmsted resident who says that he and his wife Christia are “regulars” at the park, Gerlach knew that when he heard about the cleanup event, part of the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-A-Beach program, he had to pitch in at his favorite shoreline.
“When I contacted the GL (Great Lakes) Alliance, they did not even have (Rocky River Park) in their system. They were happy to add a new beach, and I volunteered to lead the effort,” said Gerlach in an e-mail.
“This was the first time we had a group at Rocky River Park. We never had the beach on our radar before,” commented Hyle Lowry, the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Ohio outreach coordinator. She added that Rocky River resident Emese Blankenship has been spearheading an Adopt-a-Beach group at Bradstreet’s Landing for about two years, usually hitting the beach once a month, many times with family members.
“Bradstreet’s Landing is a special place for my husband and I. We walk down to watch the sunsets in the summer,” commented Blankenship via e-mail. She added that the beach was a “replacement” for their Florida home in Cedar Key. Nine people from Rocky River, Avon, Fairview Park and Bay Village and a visitor from Rochester, New York, joined “Team Blankenship” in the post-storm cleanup, and the two hours of work yielded 400 pounds of trash, including eight vehicle tires.
Lowry noted that while the program has had a “big presence” on East Side beaches, it is becoming more popular in western suburbs bordering Lake Erie.
According to information provided by Lowry, Adopt-a-Beach is a program of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the oldest independent citizens group totally devoted to preservation of the Great Lakes. Each year, thousands of volunteer teams conduct litter removal and beach health assessments throughout the Great Lakes region. Some scientific observations are also done, and the data are entered into the Adopt-a-Beach online system. Lowry said that the information is then used to educate the public as well as update city officials and improve the health of beaches.
Supplies, such as trash bags and disposable gloves, are sometimes donated, according to Lowry, but many times, the volunteers supply their own.
“We like the beach because it is accessible (as compared to Huntington), not crowded, as parking is limited, has an excellent picnic area and is ‘dog friendly,’” said Gerlach, who said that he and his wife visit Rocky River Park to collect beach glass and walk their dog in the “family-friendly and safe” environment.
Gerlach added that on cleanup day, a team of six had signed up, and a few other people pitched in when they saw the group in action. “We collected about 250 pounds of litter from boat parts to can tabs,” noted Gerlach.
According to the Alliance website, most beach trash usually consists of food-related items, such as wrappers and plastic bottles, and smoking debris like cigarette butts and plastic cigar tips.
In light of shrinking city budgets, Gerlach said, volunteers have become even more essential. “I think the cleanup is important as a supplement for what cash-strapped cities can do to maintain the beaches. Also, anytime you can get outside and have a bit of exercise, that’s a bonus. Rocky River does a great job on regular maintenance of the beach in ‘season.’ The storm left the beach a mess,” Gerlach said. He noted that he had spoken with parks and recreation Director Tom Fattlar, who said that each time a storm sweeps in from the north, the beach is hit hard.
“We’re always trying to get more people involved out there,” commented Lowry. She said that individuals, as well as community groups, can sign up for Adopt-A-Beach events, and that training is also offered.
This training, according to Blankenship, emphasizes that the program is about more than just picking up trash. “Quality of water and conserving it is now my passion,” she stated.
Anyone who wants to get involved with Adopt-a-Beach can contact Lowry at 216-630-8140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.