Volunteers Making New Hampshire’s Great Bay a Little Bit Greater

Melissa Paly | @GBPWaterkeeper

I’ll admit it – I was a little nervous about this year’s Great Bay Kayak Clean-up. More than 25 people from Timberland, a Seacoast-based company that supports its staff who do community service, had eagerly volunteered to snug themselves into kayaks and spend their day getting wet and dirty while collecting trash along the shores in Newington. But what if it didn’t go well? What if the outfitter who offered to provide kayaks didn’t bring enough boats? What if the two people coming with their motorboats didn’t show up at Great Bay Marine? What if the weather forecast was wrong, if there was no trash, or too much? I had many reasons to stress about coordinating my first coastal clean-up event in my new post as Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper.

I should have known that the folks I was working with weren’t the kind to drop the ball. At 8:00 sharp, Peter Sawtell, owner of Seven Rivers Paddling in Newmarket, lumbered into the marina with a massive trailer loaded with colorful kayaks, more than enough for any Timberland employees who didn’t bring their own. Behind him, Mike Thiel, Rye resident and Bay aficionado, pulled in with his camo-colored aluminum workhorse in tow and deftly dropped it in the water at the Marina’s ramp. By 8:30, fly-fishing guide Zak Robinson zipped into the marina in his flashy shallow-draft craft with way more horsepower than any clean-up effort would ever need to harness.

An hour later, two dozen enthusiastic Timberland employees had arrived, boats were hefted off roof racks, paddles and life vests were passed out, and volunteers circled up on the beach for Peter’s quick primer on paddling safety. Volunteers organized into smaller groups; with mesh bags in hand, paddling newbies set off to comb the calm shore along Broad Cove while those with more experience headed toward the General Sullivan Bridge, where currents move swiftly, or across the bay to Goat Island. So far, so good!

I partnered up with Zak as the trash grabber on his sleek boat, while volunteer Mike McDonnell teamed with Mike Thiel on the “2 Mikes” boat. Off we set like geese after their goslings.

By the time Zak and I pulled up to Goat Island, volunteers were already dragging waterlogged boards and splintered plywood full of rusty nails down to the shore, along with assorted plastic bottles, bags, and bits. We emptied the haul from the paddlers’ mesh bags into black contractor bags and hoisted the dirty construction waste onto Zak’s deck. When one Timberland volunteer skipped victoriously down the beach hefting a good-as-new pink plastic child’s toy car over his head, I knew my worries about “no trash” were in vain.

We crossed back to the Newington shore where the Broad Cove group had collected heaps of foam, busted up buoys, broken glass bottles, laundry detergent bailers, and what would become Zak’s favorite find – a fully serviceable fishing rod and lure! The 2 Mikes and their paddlers recovered rusted car parts and a battered propane tank by the bridge. Within two hours, both motorboats were riding low in the water under piles of precariously balanced trash.

Back at the boat ramp, Great Bay Marine Manager Sean McKenna was waiting with several staff members who helped carry the heavy bags and debris to a waiting dump truck. By the time we gathered on the lawn for a Timberland-supplied lunch, we’d nearly filled the truck and were only half way through the day.

I expected energy to flag after lunch, but once again this crew proved me wrong. For another two hours, the volunteers hauled in trash, from tires and car parts to broken bottles. The 2 Mikes filled their boat back to overflowing, as did Zak and I, until we were well past our planned 3:00 finish.

Back to the Marina we went, everyone wet, muddy, and tired, with both motorboats hideous messes. Sean and his Great Bay Marine crew were there to unload boats into the waiting dump truck, then drive up to the two dumpsters generously provided by Troiano Waste Haulers and fill them to the brim.

As we packed up boats, loaded racks, and debriefed on the day, my early morning jitters were long since gone. By day’s end, I was instead grateful and humbled by this amazing crew of volunteers – each of whom had been full-on focused on a few simple goals – to stay safe, have some fun, and leave the Bay a little better than we found it.

With more than 1,000 pounds of trash sitting in those two dumpsters and lots of happy faces heading home, I’m quite sure we succeeded on all counts.

I’m organizing another clean up for September 18 at Adams Point in Durham. If you’d like to volunteer, please contact me at mpaly@clf.org.

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