Over 100 people (my estimate) showed up at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserves (LCFPD) lakefront to participate in the annual beach clean-up. This annual event is part of a larger event sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes to bring people to the beaches and tributaries along Great Lakes coastal areas in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Bolstered by the unrelenting great weather we’ve been enjoying, the Fort Sheridan event attracted scout groups, families, couples and others who prize their access to Lake Michigan and the recently opened miles of lakefront available to them as part of the Lake County Forest Preserves as well as the adjacent Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
Although I went to the event to join with others to simply pick up the crud that might be collecting on the beach, I soon learned that the clean-up had a second, and arguably more important, objective. In addition to the bag I carried for trash and another for recyclables, I also carried an “International Coastal Cleanup Data Card” to record the type and quantity of trash. The document read, “The data you collect during the Cleanup is invaluable to Ocean Conservancy’s effort to start a sea change every day; helping us educate public, business, and government officials about the scale and serious consequences of the global marine debris problem.”
I took this opportunity to walk to the northern-most point of beach. In the solitude of this point, the tree-topped dunes rise 100 feet or more and the waves crash against rock outcropping. I am in a foreign land – and a bike ride from home. Donning work gloves, I began. One cigarette filter, two straws, a deflated balloon, 6 plastic water bottles…. Along the beach I could see others stooping, stuffing and recording their trash treasure.
When I was done I dragged my bags back to the start point and recorded the 5 pounds of trash and 2 pounds of recyclables I’d picked up. Teasingly, I asked what my prize was. Surrounded by the sun, the camaraderie and the smiles, I didn’t need an answer.