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Orange Crush Clean-up at the beach: plenty of volunteers help clean up the mess

Runners gather to help clean up beach after first wave of Orange Crush on Tybee
Runners gather to help clean up beach after first wave of Orange Crush on TybeeVictoria Ten Broeck

Many hands make light the load, but then if even more hands did not make a mess to begin with, the load would be a lot lighter.

Over thirty bags of trash were taken off the beach after one day of "fun"
Over thirty bags of trash were taken off the beach after one day of "fun"BJ English

One would think that a day on the beach would encourage a person to get back in touch with nature, not turn the beach into your private dumping ground for beer cans, bloody tampons, an assortment of plastic cutlery, towels, blankets, plastic toys and thousands and thousands of cigarette butts and cigar stubs as well as plastic bottles, straws, cans, cups, napkins and an occasional illegal glass bottle and entangled fishing line left lying at the water’s edge as if the person who left it had no idea how much havoc it could cause to native wildlife.

Orange Crush is well known to Tybee Island. It is an event that started a few years ago as an unofficial spring break for Savannah State and surrounding African American colleges and universities. SSU’s school colors are orange and blue, hence the orange crush moniker.

In 2012, conditions were so bad, that most people outside the college groups were fearful of even going to the beach that weekend with reports of high crime, crowded beaches, bad language and general unruliness way into the early hours of the morning.

Locals felt like they had “lost their beach” to the crowds who unlike typical holiday beach goers, had a sort of lawless mentality going on especially near the pier. No one wanted to be racist about it, but it seemed this group was not a good thing for the beach and many local businesses actually shut down for fear they would incur greater loses than gains.

It became so controversial that Savannah State started working harder to make it a more organized event and encourage people to be more responsible. This year there was a split between when the actual event should be held since Easter Sunday and the sunrise service at the pier will be held on the 20th.

Tybee officials expected the crowds last weekend to be the largest and blocked off the roads leading to Tybee with orange cones so that they could close off lanes and direct outgoing or incoming traffic in three verses two lanes if needed.

By the middle of Saturday afternoon it was apparent the large crowds were not coming and the cones were removed with only a portion of the expected numbers showing up for the first wave or Orange Crush, yet early on Sunday morning a group of volunteers met to help clean up the beach, not sure what they might find or how bad conditions might be.

One of those groups was 1000 Mile Challenge Group spearheaded by Victoria Ten Broeck who also hosts a running blog called Victoria Runs. The group does quarterly “runjects” a.k.a. projects like helping to do beach sweep clean ups.

Over two dozen people showed up to help pick up trash off the beach before the sun had risen.

In route to the beach, drivers noted how strange it felt to be driving on top of fog on either side with the actual road area clear. A thin layer of fog coated the high tide water lines making it feel like you were driving on top of clouds and that maybe you were on a mountain top looking at the tree tops poking up above the sky line, rather than low lying brush sticking out of the marsh.

As you drove over the bridges, you suddenly found you could not see, but it was not air filled fog so much as condensation on the windshield from the greater height and a quick windshield wipe and vision returned again with no more need for wipers once you got off the bridge and onto the road. It was a very strange feeling!

At the pier there were plenty of parking spaces and people were lined up at the water’s edge with their cameras and tripods, hoping to catch a sunrise over the eastern Atlantic Ocean reminding natives that we were, after all, a tourist destination.

Surf boarders were already heading out, though the one foot waves did not seem very challenging. Lifeguards began to trickle in and a few beach goers too as other volunteer groups including the Coast Guard began to unpack gloves and trash bags as we hit the beach in mass after taking time to enjoy the sliver of orange gold sun that rose so quickly that in under five minutes it became a full fledged globe and quickly lost it’s reddish hue to burn bright white yellow and turn the golden sky to grayish washed out blue.

Ten Broeck promised a prize to the person who found the most unique items on the beach. The first winner was a pair of sponge bob/smiley pants underwear in adult size with an unused condom and a pair of swimming goggles… one might have to use their imagination on that combination. The next was a pull cart that actually came in handy for collecting trash along the streets.

Part of the group cleaned up the parking lot and the roads, another stayed near the beach, going near the tide line first to keep trash from being washed out by the waves. The other group climbed into hard to reach areas near the sand dunes and fished out beer cans, cups, bottles, even an uneaten package of cheese as well as numerous beach towels.

Some items were actually keepers like a pair of sunglasses, some really nice Tybee themed beach mat throws and a brand new sand bucket with plastic animal shapes and a shovel.

If you are looking for a new towel set and don’t want to buy one, just go to Tybee early in the morning and you can collect a whole cart-full.

A volunteer for the Humane Society thrift shop gathered up a lot of the towels to wash and use at the animal shelter and sell the better ones at the thrift shop.

Another volunteer kept aluminum cans and plastic bottles separate and took them to the recycler.

There was a lot of trash, but not nearly as much in years past, though the lighter crowd turn out might be one reason.

The most shocking aspect of it, was not the amount of trash, but the fact that there were ample trash cans spaced less than 100 feet apart and in clusters, with spots for recyclables and trash. The cans were not even half full and in many cases, the trash had been discarded on the beach less than fifteen feet away from the trash bin!

Ten Broeck says, “ we picked up so many cigarette butts. They take ten to twelve years to decompose and beer cans take over 200 years. It’s just being respectful to our backyard, no matter who you are.”

A lot of beach goers stopped to tell the group thank you for their efforts and one early morning beer drinker actually walked up to a volunteer with a trash bag and asked if they could deposit their can with them! Well, maybe that would work: send crews walking down the beach with trash bags in hand during the event, not after!

Some of the beach organizers stated that the crowds were too young and trashed the beach because they did the same thing to their houses and dorms; left food and trash items lying about. One had to wonder if someone had not taught these “kids” to take a few seconds to toss their trash in the bin rather than toss it on the ground where it would become someone else’s problem.

The volunteer groups tried hard not to let the disrespectfulness of one group ruin the start to a beautiful day though and with over 30 large bags of trash collected (the group gave up trying to pick up all the cigarette butts after collecting over a 1000 of them and not making a dent in what was left), but one volunteer even found herself cleaning the dust off a railing and joked she was so into cleaning mode that she could take a scrub brush to the boardwalk and not be phased by it.

Ten Broeck said they plan another clean up next Sunday at 4 a.m. before the Sunrise Service. Volunteers can meet at the pier and need to bring headlamps and gloves and trash bags will be provided. Then you can stay and watch the sunrise or attend the service on the pier and be sure to have an up-close parking spot!

If you are the parent of children or lead a youth group or work for a college or university, think about doing everyone a favor and take a group of kids on a clean-up somewhere… along a highway, at the beach or water’s edge, on a wooded trail. Anywhere you go you will find trash.

Let them know that we are to be responsible for our environment and that it is a lot nicer to look at a clean strip of beach or road with nothing but wildflowers, native wildlife and clean water and land. The beauty of the earth belongs to us all, but we are all also responsible for maintaining it. No one really enjoys cleaning up your trash and it only takes a few seconds to drop that cigarette butt into a specified container or better yet, give up the habit and you won’t have to worry about all the pollution or the cost at nearly four dollars a pack or future cancers of the mouth and lungs.

As for the future of Orange Crush and whether it will be worse or better on Easter weekend, no one really knows.

We understand it is a public beach and that people just want to have fun and not do any work or think about responsibilities, but if you want to break stereotypes and make yourself welcome, it never hurts to be a polite and conscientious visitor and do your part to help pick up your own mess rather than make a bigger mess and bigger headaches for those who prefer to see you going than coming.

Ideally Tybee would like to welcome large groups to the beach, but they would prefer that the only wild oats that were sewn were the real ones that grow on the sand dunes, not the ones that do damage to the beach and scare away families until the event is over.