Pitching In and Picking Up in Grayton Beach
South Walton High student launches a new pilot program to tidy Grayton Beach
With nearly 40% of its land preserved, South Walton has pristine landscapes that attract visitors from around the world. This natural beauty is also a huge source of pride for locals who spend their time relaxing on the sugar-white sand here.
Keeping things tidy at the beach can sometimes be a labor of love. And one local high school student has made it her personal mission to help cut down the clutter while creating a culture of cleanliness in one of her happy places. Hannah Smith of South Walton High recently launched a new pilot beach basket program in Grayton Beach, with the goal of improving overall tidiness by empowering fellow beachgoers to clean by committee.
“I want to reduce the amount of litter in our water and on our beaches,” said Smith. “Overall, the main purpose of the program is to make for a cleaner community. This program is intended to get the community involved in keeping our beaches and oceans free of pollution.”
In mid-September, she installed six baskets near the trash receptacles at the end of the Grayton Beach public beach access boardwalk. Visitors are encouraged to grab one of these baskets and spend a little time using it to collect trash. When finished, they can dispose of any refuse in the nearby bins before returning the basket to the stand for someone else to use. Hopefully, seeing others making an effort will motivate people to contribute as well.
Smith has been monitoring the baskets to make sure they are all accounted for and in good shape. She also communicates regularly with lifeguards and beach vendors to get reports on how much the baskets are being used.
In addition to the general aesthetics of a cleaner beach, Smith noted that she was motivated to create a happier environment for some of the non-human visitors who frequent the beach.
“This project is important to our area because we are surrounded by beautiful beaches and have a responsibility to protect our wildlife by keeping their habitat free of litter,” she said.
Keeping the beaches clear of refuse is particularly important for sea turtles who come here to lay eggs and nest. Local initiatives aimed at protecting these turtles emphasize keeping the sand free of obstacles by flattening sandcastles and removing any non-natural objects at the end of each day. This speaks to the overall mantra of “leave no trace.”
Smith was inspired to start her basket program after visiting Plastics Beach in Hawaii — rated as one of the dirtiest places in the world. The beach is known for being constantly awash in garbage from around the globe, more than 90% of which is plastic. Smith took what she saw to heart and decided to take preventative action at home.
Walton County Tourism Department’s Director of Beach Operations Brian Kellenberger said that he was happy to see a community member not only present such a wonderful idea, but also have a clear-cut plan and step up to make it happen.
“It’s great to have young people in the community get involved with a meaningful project like this,” he said, adding that a lot of great ideas are submitted to county leadership, but Smith was one of the few people to offer to put in the work to execute it.
The baskets at Grayton Beach will be available until at least May 2022. At that time, the success of the program will be evaluated. Kellenberger said he’s curious to see how well the baskets hold up from months of use. If the program is successful, it might have a future at other regional beach accesses throughout the county. Visitors and locals alike will get the opportunity to feel even more of a sense of ownership when it comes to the beaches that bring them such joy.
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