Help for Clam Bayou hasn't dried up

Money, through a grant and a group, will trickle into the preserve so trash won't.

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Wires
Published September 2, 2007

Volunteer cleanups will continue in Clam Bayou Nature Preserve, thanks to a grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and a new nonprofit group.

The cleanups began when Kurt Zuelsdorf, who runs a kayak nature tour business, began offering free kayak rentals in return for picking up a bag of garbage in the heavily polluted bayou.

An initial grant from the water management district, commonly know as Swiftmud, helped Zuelsdorf pay for the rental time, but the money quickly ran out as the program was growing in popularity.

He soon found himself trying to manage more than 400 volunteers, dubbed the Green Machine, while searching for private sponsors.

That's when Michelle and Greg McIntosh, two of Zuelsdorf's Green Machine volunteers, decided to lend a hand.

"They've been looking for something to sink their teeth into for a long time, and after they came out to volunteer for my cleanup program everything just clicked into place," Zuelsdorf said.

The McIntoshes started the nonprofit Nature Matters to help fund the cleanups. The entity is awaiting tax-exempt status.

"It doesn't seem like anyone is truly accountable for the waterways, so we're taking it upon ourselves to do so," Michelle McIntosh said.

Formation of the nonprofit group will make it easier to apply for grants to fund the cleanups because the money will no longer be tied directly to Kayak Nature Adventures, Zuelsdorf's tour business.

"We'll be able to better organize our cleanups and keep better track of my members," Zuelsdorf said of his volunteers, whom he is encouraging to register with the new organization.

Meanwhile, he has received another Swiftmud grant of about $5,000 that he says will fund three bayou cleanups a month until December.

Once Nature Matters is fully established, it will be able to take over funding the cleanups that may eventually branch out into other waterways.

"I certainly don't love picking up trash, but I love to see the effects it has on nature," Michelle McIntosh said. "If we don't do it, no one will."

The organization's Web site is www.naturematters.us.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.