NAPLES — Thirty-two teens, five miles and four hours. It’s not a math problem, but a litter story.
The teens, who are part of the Environmental Club, National Honor Society, and other clubs at Palmetto Ridge High School, adopted five miles of canal in the Big Cypress Basin.
Justin Lang, 32, Environmental and Marine Science teacher, Science Department chairman and Environmental Club teacher, chose the canal that runs along Immokalee Road, near Wilson Boulevard as it is an area that is often used by students that like to fish. Also, the water ultimately feeds into the Gulf Of Mexico, which means the litter may as well.
“What happens out here, affects what happens out in the Gulf,” he said about motivating the students to help. “Be responsible for the area. Be involved in where you live. Be the stewards.”
His environmental club regularly comes out and tests the canals, and recently haven’t found any pH levels to be dangerous.
Palmetto is the first school to adopt a canal that is part of the Big Cypress Basin which is part of the South Florida Water Management District. Since Keep Collier Beautiful, which partners with the district, normally gets requests for half-mile segments at a time, Lang said his students’ desire to adopt five miles was thrilling.
“It’s really impressive. They went above and beyond,” said Lisa Koehler, media and outreach specialist for the Big Cypress Basin. “This is our flood control system and if we have a lot of trash and debris, it’s going to prevent enough flow to go through. It’s not just cleaning up and making it look pretty, they’re actually helping our community.”
Lang said choosing the five mile stretch wasn’t about recognition. There wasn’t another option: It was all or nothing.
“It’s a major artery to get out to our school. You see it the whole way and the whole canal is connected, so we may as well take the whole thing,” he said.
The kids received garbage bags, gloves and an area of attack. In groups of about six, finding litter and debris was easy — in only a quarter-mile stretch, five garbage bags were full and the students needed new ones. A couple parents joined the task force to help chaperone groups as they split up along the five-mile stretch.
“It’s about cleaning up the canal,” said Sam Peffers said, a senior. “We adopted it for a reason, not just volunteer hours. It’s getting out there and doing work.”
As part of the deal with Keep Collier Beautiful and the Big Cypress Basin, they must clean the canal at least four times a year. Also, they must document each item they collect. That way, the organizations will have a running tally of common items that muck up the canals and waterways. But Lang hopes this event will inspire those in the community to reach out as well.
“We have ROTC, the Band and some of the baseball and softball coaches come up to me and ask (to be involved), and as we progress it’ll be open to anyone in the community,” Lang said.
Steffers hopes it will bring out those contributing to the mess.
“They should be out here, and not us cleaning this up,” he said. “Everybody should have a social duty to clean up our canals and Collier County.”