MANATEE — The only way to know how many people showed up to the Keep Manatee Beautiful Great American Cleanup on Saturday was to watch them pull up in their canoes and haul out bags of trash.
“It’s been one of the more lightly attended events that we’ve seen in the eight years we’ve been doing this,” Laura Stukey, owner of Ray’s Canoe Hideaway said.
“It’s because of the holiday; yesterday was Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter,” her husband Mark said, pulling another canoe from the water.
Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Laura and Mark were providing volunteers free canoes, garbage bags and plastic litter tongs to help clean up the upper Manatee River.
About 20 people showed up, piled into their canoes and set out across the water searching for all things that didn’t belong.
“It was definitely cleaner than I expected,” participant Richard O’Brien said. “Ani and I,” he said, pointing to his wife and smiling, “we really had to get out and look around for the trash we found. They do a really nice job of keeping it up."
Kylee Wilson and Sinda Jones didn't necessarily agree.
"I found an old shoe and a whole campsite full of stuff," Kylee said.
Kylee, a National Junior Honor Society member at Wilson Middle School in Tampa, was logging in some community service hours.
“She’s starting high school this year,” Sinda said. “She’s only 12 years old; she’s very smart.”
Kylee and Sinda left Denise Wilson in the canoe, fishing.
“Fish are just teasing me,” she said, “stealing my worm.”
A motorized canoe streamed past, a small dog up on the gunwales, ears blowing in the wind. The man at the engine held up a nearly full trash bag as he rounded a bend and went out of sight.
Some people launched their own boats and went a bit further up the river to the Rye Bridge, where the dumping is a bit more prevalent.
Hot dogs, hamburgers and an array of chips and water awaited all those who returned.
And though more lightly attended than in the past, Mark pointed to the Dumpster and said, “Overall, I think we got about a couple thousand pounds of garbage from the river. Looking in the Dumpster and the recycling bins, it is easy to believe.
“I waited 25 years to buy Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. Offering up our place for this event every year, it’s the least we can do to help keep this stretch of river the most beautiful in Manatee County.”