Kent Island volunteers take care of what they love
By Amelia Blades Steward | photos by Caroline J. Phillips
An overflowing bucket filled with litter is a typical haul for a day’s efforts to cleanup Kent Island beaches.
Some people call her the “Trash Lady.” But for Kristin Weed of Stevensville, she considers the name a compliment — reflecting her passion for cleaning up trash on the Chesapeake Bay’s beaches to leave them better than she found them. She and her husband Jon founded the nonprofit Kent Island Beach Cleanups in 2012 after noticing trash while visiting Terrapin Beach in Stevensville. The non-profit’s mission is to protect and preserve the beauty of the beaches, parks, and estuaries of Kent Island through regular cleanups, education, awareness, social and communal responsibility, and advocacy.
Weed recalls the day she realized she needed to do something about the litter she was observing. “We loved going to walk at Terrapin Beach Park, but I found I wasn’t enjoying our time together as a family because I couldn’t stop complaining about the volume of trash on the beach every time we went. We had moved from the western shore and I really didn’t think there would be pollution on this side of the Bay. I was clearly naïve.”
She began volunteering at Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center to learn more about what organizations were dealing with beach cleanups on the Shore. In the fall of 2012, Weed contacted the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) through the Ocean Conservancy. The ICC is a worldwide cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy, where people, groups, and volunteer organizations from all over the world gather together on one day to clean a local beach, stream, or bay. Trash is counted and the data gathered is used to raise awareness, develop policy solutions, and define specifically what types of debris are found in definite areas of the world. She learned that the organization didn’t have much presence on the Eastern Shore except in Ocean City and Assateague.
She reflects, “I thought what a great way to get involved.”
The first beach cleanup was at Terrapin Beach Park and involved Weed and four other local volunteers. The group cleaned up over 20 bags of trash in less than three hours. People visiting the park stopped and told her stories of how they used to see people cleaning the beach years ago, but that they hadn’t seen a group there in a while. Many even jogged by and yelled, “Thank you!”
“It was honestly the most fulfilling feeling I had ever had,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t stop here. I am going to make this my hobby…my mission going forward.’”
Today, hundreds of volunteers attend each site’s cleanup, averaging about 200 bags of trash at each cleanup site. Mostly the cleanups deal with washed up and left behind trash, ranging from fishing line and beer cans to baby diapers.
Terrapin Park is a 276-acre park with shoreline, oyster shell and dirt walking trails, ponds and dunes with bay grasses. The environmental signage in the park was poor so the non-profit began working with the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners and Parks and Recreation Department to make improvements.
Weed states, “About four years into our cleanups, the county hired park rangers which began to have an impact on the people coming to the park. Their presence changed the attitudes of visitors as they saw enforcement happening. Plus, when you go somewhere and see that it’s clean and there are signs posted, you usually decide to respect it too.”
The value put on convenience in most modern lifestyles has driven the use of disposables. With the world of recycling becoming not as profitable as it once was, Weed wants people to start rethinking the products they are using to store and carry food. Her non-profit is supporting bills in the Maryland House and Senate this session to implement a plastic bag ban in Maryland and supports a plastic bag ban in Queen Anne’s County.
“We are pushing for small wins.”
Jon (Left) and Kristin Weed (above) have extensive knowledge about how to properly clean up our local beaches. Kristin has been dedicated to Kent Island beach maintenance since 2012 and hopes these efforts benefit our coastlines while keeping them accessible to the public. Right: It has become a family affair for Kristin, Jon and 10-year-old Evan, inspiring many other families and groups to volunteer around our shores.
Jon comments, “We saw the beauty of the Island and wanted to help out. Now we have gotten an underground following.”
The organization sponsors 10 to 12 cleanups each year, lasting three to four hours in length and held in multiple locations on the same day. To date, cleanups have happened at Terrapin Beach Park, Kent Narrows Landing, Ferry Point Park, Old Love Point Park, Hemingway’s Beach, Matapeake Fishing Pier and Beach, Romancoke Landing, and Centreville Landing in Queen Anne’s County. Supplies and light refreshments and snacks are provided for volunteers, as is documentation of community service and volunteer service hours. People of all ages participate and most walk away changed. Jon’s 10-year old son, Evan, enjoys engaging the younger volunteers by hosting treasure hunts for trash.
“If you are a denier or non-believer, come to a cleanup. It gives you a different perspective. We collect and sort trash in front of everyone and most people have an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment just seeing that,” Weed says.
Both Kristin and Jon work in sales, and Jon is also a musician. He marries music and his passion for the environment at the non-profit’s annual fundraiser, The Krusty Crab Jam, in June of each year. The event includes live bands, a silent auction, and merchandise, and the proceeds help fund supplies for cleanups and educational and marketing materials.
Kent Island Beach Cleanups is also in its fourth season of its Leaders in Training internship program for students ages 15 or older in a Queen Anne’s County high school or attending college. Interns coordinate cleanup programs, manage and recruit volunteers, and educate the public about the results of the cleanups.
“My whole point is to steadily grow our volunteer base but keep it simple,” said Weed. “Our main focus has been at both Terrapin Beach Park and the Kent Narrows Fishing Pier and Landing area. Our efforts and attention in these two regions are important because of their close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries, as well as the lack of regulation and control of pollution in these two very different parts of our Eastern Shore. We love living here on the island so it is a great way to give back to our community while keeping it clean so we can enjoy it too.”
The KIBCU painted trailer is the receptacle for the trash bags and serves as a reminder to everyone who sees it to keep our beaches clean.
Although both Jon and Kristin work full-time, Kristin continues to stay active in environmental work beyond their non-profit. She serves on the Shore Rivers Advisory Board and was involved as a guest speaker at the first 2020 Upper Shore Youth Environmental Action Summit in March at Washington College.
Looking back on how the experience has changed both of them, Jon states that now he sees trash everywhere, including cigarette butts on the side of the road — crediting his work with the non-profit in opening his eyes to the pollution that is happening all around us. He also credits his wife with changing their household in dramatic ways. The family uses no single-use plastic, they compost, they have changed their driving habits, and they have even greatly changed their eating habits due to climate change by becoming vegetarians and eating vegan as much as possible.
He quips, “Kristin is threatening this month to wean us off using paper towels at home. And, she’s right.”
Kristin adds, “At the end of the day, I want to be on the right side of history at the end of my life. I can’t ask people to do things I don’t do myself.”
For further information, visit kentislandbeachcleanups.com or call 410-458-1240.
Top 10 Trash Items Picked up on Kent Island Beaches:
Glass beer bottles
Plastic and Styrofoam food containers and wrappers
Buoy markers like milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles