District Staff Pitches In on Annual Waterways Cleanup

District staff participationVolunteers participating in cleanup.

More than 50 District employees, Board members and their friends and families were among the hundreds of volunteers taking part in the 21st Annual Hillsborough River & Waterways Cleanup.

This annual event, held in November, is one of Tampa’s largest volunteer activities. Each year, volunteers scour dozens of shoreline locations along the Hillsborough River and connected waterways to pick up litter and remove nonnative invasive plants that choke out native species.

This year, 1,321 volunteers participated in the event, removing 13 tons of debris. In addition to removing trash and invasive plants, this year’s efforts also included marking storm drains in nearby neighborhoods to remind residents not to dump anything in the storm drain because it flows into the river.

The District’s team of volunteers removed invasive plants from a section of the river near Sulphur Springs. Maritza Rovira-Forino, Governing Board member and co-chair ex officio of the Hillsborough River Basin Board, led the District team in the cleanup.

“It was inspiring to see District staff and their family members working side by side to clean up the Hillsborough River,” said Mary Margaret Hull, lead communications coordinator. “Everyone had fun working together.”

Lenore Balden, a District senior human resources generalist, invited her husband, son, daughter and several of her daughter’s friends to join her at the cleanup.

“Many of the members of our group remembered going to Sulphur Springs as children and were glad to help restore it,” said Balden.

Scott Kinel, a District accountant, was pleasantly surprised to see how many people turned out for the volunteer event.

“Helping with a cleanup, without getting paid for it, shows that someone truly cares about keeping the environment clean,” said Kinel.

The “Rally for the River” challenge took place after the cleanup at the Rollin’ on the River picnic. Teams competed in four events that challenged their mental and coordination skills, including throwing recycling materials through a hoop, pinning a tail on a river rat, a quiz bowl about the Hillsborough River and questions about the site the team cleaned up.

The District’s “Rally for the River” challenge team tied for first place in the competition. The team included Tammy Antoine, staff water conservation analyst; Mary Margaret Hull, lead communications coordinator; Bill Lewelling, hydrologist; Virginia Sternberger, senior communications coordinator; and Mary Torrusio, communications coordinator.

“The pin the tail on the river rat event was quite memorable,” said Antoine.

Rovira-Forino also represented the District when she accepted the “River Rat Award” at the mayor’s annual breakfast on Jan. 23.

The District also supports the annual cleanup financially as a sponsor and had an information booth at the Rollin’ on the River picnic. The picnic featured lunch, live music and environmental education opportunities and was held near the Lowry Park Boat Ramp.

More than 227 tons of garbage have been removed from the river since the first cleanup. Items that have been removed from the river include shopping carts, mattresses, clothes, car parts, toilets, sinks, tires, safes and, of course, litter.

The annual cleanup, which is part of the Mayor’s Beautification Program, also wrapped up Hillsborough River Watershed Awareness Week. The cooperative effort between the District’s Hillsborough River Basin Board and the Hillsborough River Watershed Alliance is aimed at fostering good watershed stewardship through several hands-on activities and workshops.