By Jim Bays, President, SOUL Inc.
Since 2007, the Friends of Crescent Lake (FOCL) have conducted monthly lake clean-ups and marsh restoration activities in Crescent Lake Park in St. Petersburg Florida.
A key landscape feature of the Park, the lake now supports a productive marsh habitat and wildlife population as a result of the continuing volunteer effort and is highly valued by the community (rated 4.7/5 by users on Google).
In 2019, annual litter volume collected from Crescent Lake totaled 633 lbs., a likely underestimate. The lake discharges by stormwater to the Tampa Bay estuary and is a continuing source of debris that poses a hazard to estuarine wildlife and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2021, FOCL leadership incorporated the non-profit Stewards of Our Urban Lakes Inc. (SOUL) to improve long-term lake clean-up effectiveness and to share information with other community-based restoration groups.
We were privileged and honored to receive CITGO grant funding from Restore America’s Estuaries in 2021 to implement our project, Clean Our Urban Environment (CLUE).
The CLUE approach allocates debris collection teams to specific watershed sub-basins with the intention of characterizing debris load and composition. Given the large watershed area (almost 400 acres) and the limited number of volunteers, there is a vital need to maximize the effectiveness of clean-up events.
Between March and August, our CLUE volunteers removed over 17,000 items of debris totaling over 550 lbs. from the watershed and lake.
A total of 261 volunteer-hours was invested over the six-month campaign. These results indicate that we achieved a typical year of litter collection in about half the time.
The CLUE funding provided SOUL with the opportunity and tools to refine debris team collection effectiveness, which we will continue to use as a continuing component of our routine maintenance of Crescent Lake.
The CITGO grant funding has achieved three significant objectives. First, by tracking the volume collected in the watershed with the volume collected directly from the lake, we have an improved understanding of how much of the debris generated within the watershed is being transported to and detained by the lake.
Second, the participation by over 140 volunteers has raised the profile of this important environmental issue within St. Petersburg and the surrounding community. We publicized the event extensively and shared information in follow-up meetings in local neighborhood associations and regional management organizations. Importantly, our volunteers had fun and
often competed to see whose collections weighed the most which brought more enthusiasm and enabled a sense of team work to the event.
Third, the findings of the CLUE events have allowed us to identify critical watersheds that contribute significantly to the total volume of litter now flowing to the lake. To make effective reductions in debris loading to the lake and estuary, we now know the key areas to focus on to maximize the return on the diligent efforts of our hard-working volunteers.
Stewards of Our Urban Lakes deeply appreciates the privilege of being the recipient of the CITGO/RAE grant and will use the information gained to improve our debris collection effort for the benefit of Crescent Lake, its users, and the Tampa Bay estuary.
We are grateful to our wonderful partner Keep Pinellas Beautiful (KPB) for generously allowing us to borrow materials, as this helped ensure our volunteers were well-equipped to perform safely and effectively.
Most of all, we are grateful to the many volunteers who kindly and enthusiastically donated their Saturday mornings to us under the unusual conditions imposed by the pandemic.
Stewards of Our Urban Lakes, Inc. (SOUL) was formed to pursue grant funding to implement projects designed to improve the effectiveness of Crescent Lake volunteer activities and to reach out to other urban lake neighborhoods by sharing information on restoration and enhancement approaches.