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Volunteers hauled more than 1,000 bags of trash off Maine islands this year

There’s a problem on Maine islands. Each year, tons of debris wash ashore. Plastic bottles, chunks of Styrofoam, busted buoys and single-use containers are carried in by the tide, turning idyllic isles into catchalls for floating trash.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Over the past 30 years, Maine Island Trail Association built a massive group of volunteers to clean these islands one by one, every year. And along the way, the nonprofit organization has built a water trail that spans the Maine coast and features more than 200 campsites.

“MITA was based on the idea that the people who use the islands will be the ones that care for them,” said Maria Jenness, who has worked as a stewardship manager for MITA since 2012.

This year, about 250 volunteers took part in MITA’s daylong island cleanup trips, which take place in the spring and fall. In addition, volunteer skippers, often accompanied by volunteer helpers, monitored and cleaned the islands throughout the summer. Together, they filled 1,340 trash bags.

Courtesy of Maine Island Trail Association
Courtesy of Maine Island Trail Association
A group of Maine Island Trail Association volunteers pile into a boat with trash they collected off a Maine island.

That’s nothing out of the ordinary, Jenness said. The trash problem on Maine’s islands is fairly consistent, but it would be much worse if it were not for organizations like MITA.

People want to help, she said. Each spring and fall, MITA posts the dates and locations of upcoming cleanup trips, and the boats are filled within a matter of days as volunteers quickly sign up. There’s often a waiting list, especially for trips in the southern and midcoast areas.

“You wouldn’t think people would be so excited to pick up trash,” Jenness said. “But I think it’s because you’re going out in a beautiful place and doing something you can feel good about. It’s such a tangible thing, coming back with a boat full of trash.”

One island at a time

The 375-mile Maine Island Trail connects over 200 islands, with campsites and day-use sites established through handshake agreements with public and private landowners.

The idea is a landowner permits access to their island, and in return, MITA members and other island users help care for the island by picking up trash, clearing trails and monitoring activity on it the best they can.

Interested in this symbiotic relationship, husband-and-wife Stephen Saltzer and Louise Palmer contacted MITA last year after purchasing Norton Island, a 150-acre chunk of paradise off the coast of Jonesport. Or it would be paradise, if it wasn’t covered in trash.

Courtesy of Maine Island Trail Association
Courtesy of Maine Island Trail Association
Maine Island Trail Association volunteers move a large piece of debris from a Casco Bay island.

“At places on the shore, it looked like someone had taken a dumpster and just dumped it,” said Salzer, a doctor from Connecticut who now lives part time on the Maine island in an off-the-grid house.

Over the course of two days, 30 MITA volunteers rid the island of the debris that was …read more

Source:: Bangor Daily News


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