Beautifying Bayshore after Gasparilla

Volunteers spend up to three hours cleaning Bayshore Boulevard the morning after Gasparilla. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE.

The Tampa Bay area, especially the college students in the region, has been looking forward to this weekend for a year. 

There has been months of planning outfits, transportation and parade watch points. Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people will shamelessly walk down Bayshore Boulevard decked out in red, black, eye patches, bandanas and, most importantly, beads.

Gasparilla, the third largest parade in the U.S., has been reported by the Tampa Bay Times as “[generating] $22 million in economic impact for Tampa Bay in 2004.” However, it also has a large environmental impact on the area as well. 

Sunday morning, instead of scraping themselves out of bed to swallow an aspirin and draw the blinds, college students, among others, can opt to work alongside Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful to clean up the parade route.

The organization has been around since 1989, but its After Gasparilla Clean Up project is only about eight-years-old, according to Christina Arenas, its environmental program manager. It was originally started by Dan and Christine Fisher, now relocated to Germany, who wanted to aid in the cleanup of the area as well as make citizens realize the effect of the parade on the environment.

“It has a lot to do with community awareness,” Arenas said. “Everyone has a good time, the whole city comes out to celebrate this parade, but afterwards, the aftermath is ridiculous.”

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful partnered with the city to help in cleaning up, because while the city does have trash street sweepers, Arenas explained that they are not enough because of how far the trash travels. 

The City of Tampa Solid Waste will be on site picking up trash bags as soon as the volunteers fill them, and in true Gasparilla form, the pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla have also joined the project to help.

“If you go down into the streets, or even into the neighborhoods, you’ll find beads and debris hanging up in the trees. You’ll find it in the storm drains, so those aren’t things that necessarily a city employee can get to,” Arenas said. “When you have volunteers that want to help, that can help, it makes it go by a lot quicker. Also, you arrive there on the day, so, if you can get to it within 24 hours, the likelihood of it reaching our waterways has decreased.” 

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful has a staff of six people, so all of its events depend on volunteers. 

When the project first started, they had fewer than 100 people show up, but in the past few years, they have reached an average of 300 per cleanup. Currently, there are 235 people pre-registered for the event, but Arenas said the majority of the people that turn out sign up in the last two days.

Sunday morning, there will be two staff members from Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, the Fishers — who are flying from Germany for the event — and several city employees present. Over the years, there have been volunteers from religious organizations, schools (elementary to university), corporate groups, families and just local residents.

People with boats are encouraged to make an appearance, since getting trash and beads out of the water is one of the goals of the project. Those who are interested in water-based clean ups should note that Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful has two major ones: World Oceans Day in June and the Hillsborough River and Coastal Cleanup in September.

For the tech savvy, there is also a smartphone app that Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful utilizes at its clean ups.

“The app basically helps us gather data and information,” Arenas said. “We collect the information, and we’re able to tell what types of trash or litter we’re picking up from the cleanup. The app is just one way to kind of eliminate paper.”

The app, called Marine Debris Tracker in both Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play, allows volunteers to manually log what they pick up. Arenas mentioned that it’s more convenient to use in groups, because while one or more persons are picking up the trash, they can alert the person whose job it is to record the items in the app.

“As you’re walking and picking up, you just log what you’re picking up and it will use GPS to show where that trash was found and then we get a spreadsheet at the end and we’re able to collect that information,” Arenas said.

The cleanup is slated to last for two-and-a-half to three hours and it is suggested that interested parties bring their own reusable water bottles to stay hydrated, as well as different items that will protect from the elements, such as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. 

Closed-toed shoes are mandatory and any minors that wish to take part need a signed consent waiver from their guardian, which can be found on Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful’s website. Gloves, water and trash bags will be provided for all volunteers.

The organization does another annual post-celebration cleanup event, After the Fireworks, on July 5, in order to clean up debris left behind by people who celebrated with their own fireworks. This, along with many other events, can be found on and on its Facebook page.

The registration for Sunday’s event starts at 9 a.m., with the clean up starting an hour later, on Bayshore Boulevard.