By about noon Saturday, there wasn’t much left to do on the beach at St. Catherine’s Island except pack up a few bags of trash and some other debris onto boats and go back to Half Moon Marina.
For Keep Liberty Clean and Beautiful Executive Director Dr. Karen Bell, that was a good thing.
“We do education throughout the year, reminding boaters to take their trash with them,” Bell said, shortly before calling volunteers together for lunch. “Today may be a testament to those efforts, because the beach was a lot cleaner than it’s been in the past. We had trash, we’ll always have trash, but there wasn’t as much as there has been.”
It was a bittersweet day for Bell, who has been head of KLB since 2018. This was her organization’s first beach sweep without longtime conservationist Dave Sapp – who with his wife Pat practically founded KLB and started the beach sweeps on St. Catherine’s more than 20 years ago. He died in October at 81.
Sapp, a retired lieutenant colonel and Vietnam veteran, was an avid boater and handled much of the logistics on the annual sweeps while also serving as a boat captain and helping bring volunteers to the island.
Bell called Sapp “our fearless leader,” on Saturday, and wiped back a tear as she recalled his willingness to continue organizing the beach cleanups for her predecessor at KLB, Sarah Swida, and then for her after Swida retired in 2018.
“Dave was the champion of this beach sweep,” Bell said. “This one is definitely dedicated to Mr. Dave.”
A popular event
Saturday’s event drew about 50 volunteers on eight boats, though COVID quarantines meant some boat captains had to stay on the mainland, and that left Bell having to turn some volunteers away at the last minute.
Those who made the trip joined other groups, including groups such as Clean Coast and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, as well as several residents in the Naturalist’s Program at the Ford Field & River Club – formerly known as Ford Plantation. It also brought Richmond Hill residents Mickey and Annette Youmans, longtime volunteers with Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Clean Coast.
Mickey Youmans, a documentary filmmaker who grew up on the Georgia coast, was among the boat captains to donate time and gas to bring volunteers to the island. He recalled a time when cleanups would result in large hauls of everything from tires to beer cans to plastic bottles. This was the Youmans first trip with KLB. “I volunteered because I know the area really well and I really enjoy being out here and helping in efforts to protect the environment such as this,” Mickey said. “What I really loved about being out here today was the spirit of the thing, the diversity of the people involved, all the different ethnicities and ages, and all out here for one purpose.”
Saturday, he and his wife Annette barely filled a trash bag before it was time for lunch.
Later, she sent an email with her thoughts on the trip.
“It was a wonderful day socializing and working alongside children, teens, adults and seniors from all walks of life to clean the beach and be happy about doing it,” she wrote. “We are fortunate our creator provided us with such beautiful places. I strive to protect, preserve and care for these creations and was thrilled to see the caring displayed by so many people. Having opportunities to volunteer are meaningful to me and I appreciate the caring and diversity of those who donate their time as volunteers and those who work at managing it every day to make it possible.”
There were some who made it a family affair, including Midway-based charter fishing boat captain Hector Soto, who was there with his wife Sol and children Abby, Noah and Eli.
Hector Soto, who is about to retire from the Army and operates his charter boat business on off duty time out of Half Moon, said he volunteered his boat to help out KLB and because he and his family come to the beach on St. Catherine’s.
“When they asked me if I’d like to take the opportunity to come help clean the beach I said ‘hell yeah,’” Soto said, smiling. “This is a great way for my family and my kids to come out and help keep nature around so that my grandkids and great grandkids and future generations will be able to come out and see this island as it should be.”
Soto said he regularly carries trash bags on his boat on charter trips to police up plastic found in the water, said before COVID he’d routinely find plactics floating on the water.
“Some people still don’t realize how important it is to protect nature,” he said.
Other volunteers, such as Danny Peller and Amanda Jeffers, who road on Youman’s boat along with Krystal Hart, a longtime public relations professional, said it was about helping out with efforts to protect the environment.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a beach sweep,” Peller said. “I’ve been here many a time in the past, but never to help clean it up.”
Jeffers, who lives on Jones Creek, was also a first-timer. She said she volunteered to help keep the area clean and habitable. “It’s about getting all the junk out of the water so we can continue as humans to live out here.”
It was also a first for Hart who said she’s volunteered with KLB since 2010.
“The annual Beach Sweep is the only program I have not done,” Hart said. “I was determined to come out this year for a day of volunteering, meeting new people, and doing my part to keep all of Liberty County clean and beautiful.”
Mark Hobgood, a Half Moon resident who works in Richmond Hill as a wastewater treatment plant manager for EOM, the company who handles public works for the city of Richmond Hill.
Like others, he said he volunteered to help clean up because it was the right thing to do.
It wasn’t just about giving; those who gave got something in return other than a trip to one of the Georgia coast’s most beautiful spots. There were t-shirts and a free lunch, and all the water or juices one could drink.
That was the least KLB could do, Bell said, on a day that would’ve no doubt would’ve made Dave Sapp proud.
“We couldn’t do this without our volunteers and our boat captains,” Bell said. “Our captains donate their boats, their gas and their time to come out here. And our volunteers take time on a Saturday to come and help. It’s so wonderful that people will come to the beach and make sure it’s clean for others to enjoy.”