Tales of an eager garbage picker (condoms excepted)

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The Saturday cleanup that I attended, dubbed Op-SPLASH 23, began at 9 a.m. at a boat launch on Freeport’s famed Nautical Mile, a.k.a. Woodcleft Avenue, which is populated by trendy seafood eateries, bait-and-tackle shops and boat dealers. Many, if not most, of the local businesses were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, when a 10-foot tidal surge swept through Jones Inlet, over the wetlands and straight for Freeport. The Nautical Mile, being among the southernmost points in the village, took a crushing blow.

The students in my Issues in Science Reporting class at Hofstra, who are studying and reporting on the South Shore wetlands, joined me at the cleanup. After a breakfast of bagels and coffee, we met up with a group of SPLASH volunteers and headed in a small boat south down the Woodcleft Avenue canal and then east, toward Merrick. The temperature hovered in the mid-30s and cold sea spray splattered over our vessel as it cruised across the water.

We were dropped off on Swan Island, a long, narrow mudflat with a rocky beach and a field of Spartina grass, which is bright green in summer but brown at this time of year. Much of the island was oozing mud. The sandy shoreline, though, offered a safe venue for eager garbage pickers.

I spent the morning chatting with volunteers as we cleared the area of debris. There was 85-year-old Charlie Fisene, a lifelong South Shore resident with a wide smile and a biting sense of humor. He spoke about the two handguns he discovered during a cleanup last year. There was also Joann Bo, who has brought her three children to SPLASH cleanups for the past decade. Her middle child, Heather, 15, a sophomore at Kennedy High School in Bellmore, joined her on this one. And there were James Miller and his wife, Donna Shulman, kayakers from Hewlett who had long seen the trash from their boats and wanted to help get rid of it.

In the 1800s, Royte notes in “Garbage Land,” New York City did not offer municipal garbage collection. Wealthier residents had the money to have their trash carted off to who knew where. The poor threw their trash –– mostly food scraps –– on the street, where wild pigs (there were once thousands of them roaming the city) scarfed it up.
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