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PA Cleanways tidy island near Philly

| Sunday, May 18, 2003

Life-jacketed volunteers picked litter off Little Tinicum Island Saturday, bagging plastic soft-drink bottles and Little Hug jugs as jets leaving Philadelphia International Airport roared overhead.

The 55 volunteers were ferried to the two-mile island in boats. They worked there much of the day, pulling tires and an Acme supermarket cart out of the sand. They cleared a beach half a nautical mile long, taking off enough trash to fill 20- and 40-ton trash containers.

"Things went really well," said Sue Snyder, who organized the outing for PA CleanWays, the Greensburg-based anti-litter group. "It's completely clean."

The effort was as far southeast as the group has reached.

Little Tinicum sits in the Delaware River, just south of Philadelphia. Its 157 acres are uninhabited, other than some birds and a few deer that swim across the river from Essington.

Several rare and endangered plant species grow in the island's tidal-marsh conditions. Some of the plants -- marsh fleabane, Walter's barnyard grass and dwarf spike-rush, in particular -- are rare enough to place the island under the control of the state Bureau of Forestry. Marsh fleabane has been found at only one other site in Pennsylvania.

Years ago, Little Tinicum was known mostly as a boater's party spot. Picnickers lined the beach on sunny Sunday afternoons, their boats anchored just off-shore.

"They used to go out there with generators and five- or six-piece bands," said Bob Giffear, president of the West End Boat Club, a 62-slip marina in Essington. "They'd stay for days."

More recently, the island has become a magnet for plastic trash, which floats down the Delaware or drifts in with the southern tide. "It catches everything that comes up and down the river," Giffear said.

During a survey of the site last week, CleanWays organizers found nesting Canada geese sitting on eggs and empty Gatorade bottles. They also found ship bumpers and empty drug vials, with needles nearby.

Snyder and other coordinators had planned the cleanup since 2000, when a survey found nearly 60 tons of trash on Little Tinicum's shore and in the thicker inland brush. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Philadelphia water and recycling departments helped plan yesterday's effort.

Some state employees joined a half-dozen local CleanWays staffers for yesterday's cleanup. Another 22 people used the cleanup to work off community service sentences.

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