In the spring of 1989, 16-year-old Cameron Swain went on an outing with her family in Hampton Roads to pick up trash on a beach. As a teenager, she didn't realize that the small informal cleanup would become the first ever Clean the Bay Day, now going stronger than ever as it enters its 28th year.
Swain has watched the event grow from its grassroots infancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s to a longtime Virginia tradition that mobilizes thousands across the Commonwealth to beautify their local waterways.
In recent years, Clean the Bay Day has attracted 6,000 to 8,000 volunteers at sites stretching from coastal Virginia to Richmond, Charlottesville, the Shenandoah Valley, and Northern Virginia. In just three hours participants often pick up well over 100,000 pounds of trash.
Just as she has for nearly 20 years, on the first Saturday of June Swain will lead her own Clean the Bay Day site at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, where she is the assistant park manager. At False Cape, a few dozen people usually come out to clean the six miles of beach, often picking up between 500 and 1,000 pounds of trash in one morning.
"You get the same volunteers year after year. Now they are bringing their children," Swain says, recalling toddlers at the first cleanup who now come out as adults. "You see these people evolve and grow."
Over the years, participants have recovered all sorts of trash from the park's beach. "Now that I've been doing it so many years, nothing really surprises me," she says, listing everything from computer screens and light bulbs to tires and bathing suits. "You name it, it's probably washed up on the beach at one time."
When you consider the sheer number of people who participate, it is amazing how one morning's effort transforms hundreds of miles of beaches, parks, rivers, and streams. The massive collaborative effort across Virginia every Clean the Bay Day is "heartwarming," Swain says. "Even if it's the only time they do it this year, that makes a real difference," she says.
—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator