Not political, just proper
By CRISTINA SILVA
Published March 21, 2007
Paddling his canoe slowly through the dark, murky water, Kurt Zuelsdorf maneuvered to avoid disturbing four egrets majestically sitting on the branches of a red mangrove.
Moments later, he caught sight of a blue heron and an egret searching for food in a pile of debris.
In this far corner of Clam Bayou, lodged between golf courses, condos and bungalows, otters, alligators and hundreds of species of birds make a home - but human fingerprints are visible at every turn.
For years, Gulfport has struggled to decide how to clean up this estuary. Trash and sediment from St. Petersburg's streets and sewer systems wash into Clam Bayou every day, dotting the nature preserve with rotting garbage.
Leaders from the state, St. Petersburg and Gulfport have argued over whose responsibility it is to clean up the mess.
But to the residents whose homes hug the bayou, it is not just a political issue but a reality they face every time they look out their back doors or try to paddle through the estuary.
"All is not well with the bayou," said Al Davis, a resident who is a member of Gulfport Water Watch, a nonprofit environmental group. "The challenge is that all these bureaucracies are working on their interests, and it is very difficult for an observer to connect the dots."
On a recent Saturday, it's as though a picnic spread exploded and was left to rot: Plastic cups, empty snack bags, paper plates and soda bottles peak through the water in every direction. There are also shopping carts, tires and plastic bags rooted firmly into the murky bottom of the estuary. Someone will have to dig most of it out with a shovel, Zuelsdorf noted.
"Some of it has been here so long, it is so dark, it doesn't look like garbage, it is so covered in mud," he said as he paddled through the water on a recent tour of the bayou.
In Gulfport, half a dozen homes and a condo building sit along the bayou. On the St. Petersburg side, Twin Brooks Golf Course overlooks part of the estuary.
The trash is hardly visible from the grassy parks hugging the waterfront. Residents have to go deeper to see patches of human detritus along the marsh grass.
"People don't know all this is here. They can't see it," said Zuelsdorf, who runs a kayak rental stand along the bayou.
Zuelsdorf started Bring Back the Bayou this month. In exchange for a bag of garbage filled with waste from the water or mangroves, he provides a free hour of kayak rental three days a week.
His customers return with bags overflowing with trash. They smell slightly of decaying litter and fish.
In recent weeks, they have brought back 3,500 pounds of trash, including a barnacle-crusted Barbie doll, a plastic blow-up doll, a Big Wheel and enough basketball, soccer, golf and tennis balls to launch a youth sports league, Zuelsdorf said.
"We are bringing back the bayou, piece by piece, bag by bag," he said.
In this time, Zuelsdorf has discovered hidden lagoons and channels. He likes to paddle up to the birds and stare them in the eye.
It has helped him realize that Clam Bayou should be more than an argument about who has to spend tax money on restoration.
Instead, he tells clients to focus on the beauty of the water, the rarity of being so close to wildlife in the middle of a city, and the fun of helping to clean up a nature preserve.
Focus on anything but the trash.Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lost and found
On the 10 acres that make up the Gulfport side of the bayou
3,500 Pounds of trash collected so far
Found items include:
- a grocery cart
- two car tires
- a Big Wheel
- a blow-up doll
[Last modified March 21, 2007, 07:04:58]
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