ALPENA - In September a group of more than 150 sixth-grade students from Thunder Bay Junior High and their teacher, Cheryl Mack, set a goal of making the beaches in Alpena a more enjoyable and attractive place for residents and visitors.
With garbage bags in tow they combed the beaches picking up debris, documented the items cleaned up and after the data was collected presented their findings, as well as suggestions, to Alpena Municipal Council. Monday, Mayor Matt Waligora presented the class a certificate of appreciation for the work they had done.
Mack said this year was the first year she utilized the Adopt-a-Beach program with her students and she did so to give the kids a lesson on being good stewards to the community and the environment. She said she and the students were shocked at the condition of the beaches.
"I went online and saw none of the area beaches online were currently adopted, so I just went from there," Mack said. "I checked to see if the class was interested and they were. On the surface the beaches always look very clean, but it is the little litter that gets left behind that surprises me. We know the city does the best job it can, but just the amount of cigarette butts on the ground was shocking."
Savannah Thomson said the class had cleaning efforts at Bay View Park, Thompson Beach, Blair Street Park, Mich-e-ke-wis Park and Starlite Beach. She said when the students arrived they were divided into groups and began cleaning as well as documenting what they found on the ground.
"We had tally sheets and we would tally everything we found. If we found a cigarette butt it would be tallied. Once we were done picking it up, we weighed the bags to see how much they weighed," Thomson said. "When we were done the beaches were a little cleaner, but there was just too much to do and too little time."
Olivia Losinski said she goes to the beach with her sisters several times a week during the summer. She said she would like to see the sand cleaner when she goes to the beach and for a solution to be found that would eliminate the sludge that collects near the shore at some of the beaches. The "sludge" is nothing more than remnants of wood from the debris left in the bay for more than a century.
"It makes doing things like making sand castles not as fun," Losinski said. "Sometimes the water is mucky in some places. When I take my sister I have to pick her up and carry her across it. That is for sure one thing I would like to see cleaned."
Because Alpena is seeing an increase in the number of out of town visitors, having the beaches in pristine condition is important. Taylor Tolsdorf said if she was visiting Alpena for the first time and went to the beach she would be impressed with some aspects of it, but also work needed to be done to make it more attractive.
"I would think it needs to be cleaned better and the cigarette butts need to be picked up. There were so many of them that I would would probably try to stay on the grass and not too close to the water where it was more dirty," Tolsdorf said. "There needs to be more signs that are brighter that can attract people's attention easier and maybe more trash cans and ashtrays. Maybe we can make it so there is no smoking at the beach."
Faith Romel said she was surprised by the amount of litter at the beaches. She said in the future she would be willing to help in other efforts to beautify the local parks and beaches.
"There is a ton of money spent to have the beaches cleaned right now and if people volunteered that money could be used to put more stuff on the beaches for the people," Romel said. "Some of our solutions were to paint the trash receptacles super bright colors and banning smoking. We also think someone should get a fine if they get caught throwing any type of garbage on the beaches."
MaKenzie Zdybel said is was a thrill to go to the council meeting and to have the mayor acknowledge their work. She said she hopes the work there class has done will inspire others to do the same.
"I feel like maybe if we start here in Alpena maybe it will start something big," Zdybel said. "Maybe it will move to all of Michigan."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.