There was a time that Benicia was the only city in the country to have Coastal Cleanup volunteers from every school in town. The event began in Benicia when coastal steward and marine biologist Carol Keiper started an annual beach cleanup at the foot of First Street. In the early days, 30 -50 people would turn out. Keiper ran the event for five years, driving to Coastal Commission offices in San Francisco to pick up supplies, and securing free pizza from Pizza Pirate for the volunteers.
When Keiper moved out of the area, local teacher Brita Bautin took over. Bautin felt that it was essential for Benicia’s children to take part in the cleanup. “Volunteerism is important in schools,” says Bautin. Under her direction, the cleanup took to the classroom. Volunteer attendance swelled to nearly 450 people, mostly school-aged children. One year, the Historical Museum director identified objects picked up at the cleanup. “There were wooden pegs once used to make ships, found at the old Turner Shipyard site, and melted glass from the old tannery,” says Bautin.
Bautin turned over the reins to Sue Wickham, who ran the cleanup for six years. Wickham secured funding from the City to help run the cleanup. The City supports the cleanup effort with funding, facilitating, and hosting the post-event volunteer BBQ. Several years ago, Sue handed the reins over to me.
Volunteers now number over 900. As our beaches have become less littered with debris, the cleanup effort has begun to move inland to include creeks and streams. This year’s coastal cleanup will be held on Saturday, September 25, from 9am-noon at several locations around town including inland waterways. Bring your own recycled bag and some gloves to help reduce plastic pollution.