Saturday morning, over 2,300 volunteers fanned out across Erie and Niagara Counties to sweep their waterfronts of accumulated trash and dumping. Over a decade or so, Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper’s Shoreline Sweep has grown to become the region’s largest coordinated cleanup effort of the spring-cleaning season.
2019’s Shoreline Sweep was perhaps the most notable to date, becoming part of a larger series of events branded as Waterkeeper Weekend, including a major fundraiser and announcements of six million dollars worth of projects to advance the Blueway. It also happened on the heels of major announcements of new plans for the Outer Harbor and Lasalle Park, both of which Waterkeeper played a major role in developing – and both of which are unquestionably the best plans for either resource that have been developed or proposed in their history.
I found the shoreline sweepers busy shoreline sweeping in Lasalle Park, which I’d last visited on a day of single-digit temperatures, with wind gusts over fifty miles per hour, when the Lake Erie seiche had pushed the ice even with the top of the breakwall. With flowers and greenery popping all over the park, and a sign-in table hosting a huge box of Paula’s Donuts, this scene was much more welcoming. At the sign-in table I found the Waterkeeper herself, Jill Jedlicka, with Site Captain Jim (@jiminbflo) and RestoreCorps Member Amy. A big part of the team was organized by a band named – appropriately – Aqueous (see lead image). Their gig is “high-energy groove rock,” and they certainly rocked the park.
My next stop was Broderick Park, where Shoreline Sweep volunteers worked with the Peace Bridge as a backdrop and mingled with a myriad of anglers. Nine years ago, a major Shoreline Sweep event that I helped organize at the park featured a large team of volunteers from Rich Products as well as Mayor Brown and other dignitaries, which helped set the stage for a major investment of city funds to remake the park. It’s looking great. Queenseyes has more about the cleanup at Broderick. Over fifty volunteers worked there!
Heading north on the Shoreline Trail, volunteers had swept north from Broderick Park and south from Unity Island Park. I was struck by how much of an equalizer our shoreline can be: it seemed that people of all races, creeds, colors, and national origins were fishing – side by side. A good metaphor for America. It seemed to work just fine for everyone, except this rainbow trout who was none too happy about being landed:
After Unity Island, the next stop was the mouth of Scajaquada Creek, where the last two hardy volunteers from the Himalayan Institute were just finishing up. They were camera shy, but not shy about what their team did: collected 95 bags of trash and a full bag of – yikes – needles. A group from Travelers’ Insurance worked there, as well, and tweeted this group photo:
Not far away, at West Avenue – sadly, a site relentlessly targeted for illegal dumping – there was an enormous haul, as usual. The Buffalo Sewer Authority tweeted a picture of it all with BSA engineer Alex Emerson, who led a great tour of the wastewater treatment plant I took last year, holding the sign:
Upstream, City sanitation stalwarts scurried to snag sacks of Shoreline Sweep spoils. But I noticed the Shoreline Sweepers missed something: a huge, ugly expressway in the creek. Perhaps they’ll remove that next year.
Behind Wegmans, at the finger dam, is always a photogenic spot for Shoreline Sweep, with operations underway to remove the ubiquitous abandoned shopping carts. And there was plenty to remove: I alerted Waterkeeper in February (when water levels were low) that there were over a dozen carts in the water there, plus a bike frame. But what a difference a few months makes. Now, record high water (at and above the top of the finger dam) made removing carts hazardous – if you could even see them. Still, the tenacious Buffalo Guild – the union representing Buffalo News reporters – was able to get at one and pull it out. For Shoreline Sweep, the Guild worked to clean up their city physically as they do metaphorically every other day of the week. As usual, Reporter Aaron Besecker had the scoop:
Being near Wegmans, I finished my Shoreline Sweep sweep with an iced cappuccino on their patio, overlooking the creek valley, imagining the fens landscape that could be created there once we remove the expressway.
How about we pull that out of the creek during next year’s Shoreline Sweep?
See the photo gallery below for additional photos from Shoreline Sweep, including from social media from other sites around the region.