Photography by Alice Mary Herden
The Weeki Wachee River is a well traveled and popular place for swimming, kayaking, boating and snorkeling, however over the years with the increase of traffic on the river, there has been a rise in the amount of litter left behind.
Paul Vermeulen, self-employed, created the Weeki Wachee River Rangers Facebook group on July 17, 2018 to coordinate clean-ups in order to help keep the scenic and pristine water of Weeki Wachee River beautiful.
On August 28, Weeki Wachee River Rangers conducted their first official group meeting at Weeki Wachee Christian Camp. There were over 60 attendees at this event including staff from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Vermeulen shared his vision about Weeki Wachee River Rangers.
“There is nothing we can do about the amount of traffic on the river right now,” Vermeulen said “But if we are going to complain about the trash, then lets do something... that we can control.”
Six weeks into publicizing the group, they have conducted two clean ups which recovered over 500 lbs of trash from the river.
“We went out as a group and we did something that we can actually control and it felt good,” Vermeulen said.
“Where does this thing go in six months and what happens with this group, hopefully nothing but great things,” Vermeulen continued.
There are many volunteers involved, from those who share ideas to others who coordinate conservation efforts.
“I envision this group to be good stewards on the water and encourage people on the water to do the same,” Vermeulen said.
On the Weeki Wachee River
Two River Ranger volunteers have been cleaning up the 7.5 mile spring fed river - above and below the water for quite some time. Kimberly Adamson and her friend Susan Warner, team up together to collect trash not only along the bank of the river but also trash that has sunk to the bottom of the river. With snorkeling gear and stand-up paddle boards, the duo spends hours on the river.
“We are out here 6 to 10 hours and sometimes we’ll go all the way to Bayport, other times we spend more time here,” Adamson said.
“It started off collecting flip flops out of the trees. We collected 52 flip flops in one trip down the river,” Warner said. “It started with collecting garbage on the top of the river and then collecting garbage on the bottom of the river.”
Not all that is collected is beer cans or bottles, but food packages, sunglasses and other personal items.
“I have at least 10 grocery bags with me for the unmentionables like diapers, paper towels, tampons- stuff you really do not want to touch, but we don’t want to leave it there,” Adamson said. “This river became our therapy from our otherwise very stressful, hectic life. It’s hard to be at peace surrounded by garbage.”
“If you bring it on the river, take it off of the river,” Warner said.
Husband and wife team, Robbie and Nellie Frix have been boating on the river for the past four years and throughout that time- they have been picking up trash. They joined the Weeki Wachee River Rangers group in August. Recently they have placed four trash cans on specific “hot spots” along the river in hopes that this will help control some of the trash left behind.
“We’ve always picked up trash because we don’t like the river to be unsightly,” Frix said. “We love the river and the resource that it is and we are trying to preserve it.”
“We got involved in the group about a month ago and are very proud to be members, and do what we can, we'll offer our assistance any way they need us to. We just enjoy being part of a group that shares our vision of cleanliness on the river,” Frix said.
If you would like to volunteer with the Weeki Wachee River Rangers visit their Facebook group page.
(Just search for Weeki Wachee River Rangers in Facebook)
Weeki Wachee River Rangers are joining forces with Florida Sea Grant and UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County for the 2018 Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup in Hernando County on September 29 8AM-2PM at Linda Pedersen Park 6300 Shoal Line Blvd in Weeki Wachee.
Please contact Theresa Weglarz or Brittany Scharf at the UF/IFAS Extension Office for more details: [email protected] or 352- 754-4433.