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Monday, May 10, 2021

Keep Alachua County Beautiful hosts 29th annual Great American Cleanup

Locals will plant trees and shrubs, pick up litter, paint over graffiti and pull invasive plants

The cleanup will be from 9 a.m. to noon and will start at Massey Park. [Graphic by Aubrey Bocalan]
The cleanup will be from 9 a.m. to noon and will start at Massey Park. [Graphic by Aubrey Bocalan]

Alachua County will participate in the nation’s largest community improvement program for the 29th year in a row.

Saturday’s Great American Cleanup will take place from 9 a.m. to noon starting at Massey Park, located at 1001 NW 34th St. Locals can sign up to plant trees, pick up litter, paint over graffiti and pull invasive plants with Keep Alachua County Beautiful (KACB). 

“The four Ps,” Gina Hawkins, executive director of KACB, said. 

Over 100 organizations are teaming up with KACB for its 29th annual Great American Cleanup. Hawkins, who has participated since its start, said it began as “Neighborhood Cleanup” and “Great Florida Cleanup.” Six years later, the national environmental organization Keep America Beautiful adopted it.

“It went national,” Hawkins said. “We like to think we had a role in that.”

Volunteers will be given supplies including grabbers, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, trash bags, safety vests and first aid kits. From there, volunteers will disperse to their service sites.

As a safety precaution, Hawkins ordered 500 triple-layered masks with a filter, the KACB logo and a storage bag and 1,000 white cotton reusable ones. She said volunteers must remain six feet apart, and if they are more than 10 feet apart, they don’t have to wear masks.

Between 2018 and 2019, KACB collected 630,809 pounds of litter and debris and recycled 431,551 pounds.

The county waived trash transfer fees for the event. Normally, tires cost $3 per ton to dump at the Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station, and solid waste costs $52 per ton.

Hawkins said she expects at least 500 volunteers at Saturday’s event. As many as 800 people have attended before. She attributed the large turnout to the local organizations KACB partners with.

“I think that's where our organization is particularly strong in that we partner with other organizations, so that we can realize the power of all of these organizations in the community,” she said.

One group of volunteers will pluck invasive species like Carl Ardisia, which has scarlet berries.

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“If you've ever tried to pull a Carl Ardisia plant, you're probably disappointed when the berries fell off and crawled under the leaves,” Hawkins said. “We instruct people how to put a trash bag over the plant before they give it a yank.”

She defines invasive species as those that aggressively compete for space with native and desirable plants. In her yard, she corners lantana and mows around it.

Other volunteers will collect trash in neighborhoods where private trucks dropped their trash. Hawkins said KACB relies on the community to notify her of these sites.

Brandon Tran, a UF business administration 19-year-old sophomore, will attend the event with his fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi. As the vice president of community service, he raised $1,500 for KACB through a virtual voting contest with the Radiant Credit Union.

Tran said he focused on KACB because of their lasting sustainability impact.

“I see their efforts, I see what they do,” he said. “And I see how it truly does make an impact throughout Gainesville.”

Recently, he and Delta Sigma Pi volunteers planted 800 trees in the Little Orange Creek Preserve with KACB. Volunteering with them is a rewarding experience, Tran said. 

“I think every person that makes an effort counts and it goes towards something,” he said.

Volunteers will receive T-shirts, water bottles, shopping bags and food. All of them will be entered for prizes.

“These people work hard, people who do the right thing deserve to be recognized,” Hawkins said.

Contact Katie Delk at kdelk@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @katie_delk.

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