Anthony John Coletti
Travelers love souvenirs. But they probably won't want a keepsake from one of Kurt Zuelsdorf's kayak trips. Kurt's company, Kayak Nature Adventures, extends discounts to customers who bring back a bag of trash from tours of Clam Bayou, a Tampa Bay estuary. Kurt started the promotion in 2006, hoping to clean up some of the litter clogging the nature preserve. Less than two years later, kayakers have collected more than 30,000 pounds of junk, including shopping carts, lawn furniture, tires, balls, even motorcycles.
The trash can be traced to runoff from surrounding St. Petersburg and Gulfport, Florida. During storms, neighborhood litter flows into estuaries and collects in mangrove forests that support birds, dolphins, rays, and manatees. "After a major cleanup, I stood back and watched," Kurt says. "The herons, the cranes, and the ibises were sitting up in the treetops waiting for us to leave. The pelicans were diving. The fish were jumping. It's nothing short of a miracle to watch that happen."
But none of that makes trash collecting glamorous. And Kurt is amazed by the number of people willing to participate―so far more than 600. Like a modern-day Tom Sawyer seeking fence painters, Kurt has no shortage of kayakers eager to pick up litter.
"I don't just give nature tours anymore," he says. "Every single tour I give now, people take a garbage bag with them." The discount is always available, but Kurt has also found sponsors for free kayaking/cleanup days. Future plans include opening a bayou education center.
"It's kind of like Easter egg collecting," says Kim Morwood, a volunteer who has waded into the water to drag up junk. "When you see the results, it's so worth it."
Kayak Nature Adventures; 727/418-9728 or kayaknature.com