NEW PORT RICHEY — As the first signs of a hot day creeped up over the city’s parks, more than 100 volunteers scoured the grass and river’s edge at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey.
They were there last Saturday to pick up litter as part of the annual Cotee River Cleanup, hosted by the New Port Richey Parks and Recreation Department.
A large number of these volunteers were teens who sacrificed sleeping in to help keep their community clean and beautiful.
One group, the New Port Richey Public Library’s Youth Offering Library Opinions Club, scavenged under the Main Street Bridge and in and around the Gene Sarazen River Overlook observation tower, filling several bags with glass, paper, tobacco products and more.
YOLO member Liam Plotkin, 14, frowned as he got down on his hands and knees to pick up cigarette butts with gloved fingers.
“Miss Kayla, I found 27 cigarettes,” he called out to his supervisor, library administrative assistant Kayla Kuni.
“Yeah, and that’s just in this 4-foot area,” Kuni told the teen.
The Sept. 21 Cotee River Cleanup coincided with the Pasco County Coastal Cleanup and International Coastal Cleanup.
The Pasco County Coastal Cleanup is an annual countywide coastal litter cleanup event organized by the county, which works with the Ocean Conservancy, Keep Pasco Beautiful, local businesses and community groups. The cleanup focuses on picking up litter around beaches, lakes, rivers and other inland areas.
Last Saturday Kuni led a group of five teens around the river’s edge and Main Street bridge where they collected several bags of trash and bounced around ideas to present to the city council on how they could help take care of the overlook tower where weeds have overtaken a bed of dirt.
Ideas included planting a community garden or drought-resistant plants.
“It would be a good library project for the kids,” Kuni said.
Kristen King, the events and community outreach coordinator for parks and recreation, nodded toward the teens as they snacked on chips and hotdogs in the park after the cleanup.
“It’s always good when people in the community take pride and ownership in where the live, especially the youth,” King said.
“You always hear the bad things about the youth and the awful things they’re doing but look at all these kids out here today.”
The volunteers gathered around picnic tables to eat as they filled out a form about the type of trash they collected. Categories included “most likely to find,” “fishing gear,” “packaging materials” and “personal hygiene.” The YOLO group found mostly cigarette butts, beer cans, glass, balloons and bandages.
“The fact that it’s so close to where the kids are playing is gross and troubling,” Kuni said.
While the cleanup brought out more than 100 volunteers, most were land-bound and picking up trash that floated to the river banks. Next year, King hopes to draw out more boaters and kayakers to collect debris littering the water.
“There are so many things you can’t get from the land,” King said.