Chesterton Tribune



Local teens hit the beaches with gloves and trashbags

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The Indiana Dunes are known for their jaw-dropping sunsets and postcard-pretty hiking trails. But this summer, as Illinois and Michigan folks shut out of their own beaches stormed ours, the abandoned Taco Bell wrappers, empty beer cans, and flicked cigarette butts became part of the landscape as well.

A lot of people see the trash, only to dismiss it as par for the course and just look elsewhere for a clean patch of sand. Because surely a park ranger will pick it up. The browning apple core will biodegrade soon enough. And the rain--when it rains--will wash away the stick and goo.

Actually, what happened is that a group of determined teenagers assembled every Monday from 8 to 10 a.m. and every Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. to do the job of hundreds.

Organized by Bella Auricchio, a Chesterton High School senior, the self-led beach cleanup drew dozens of local teens to re-beautify Porter Beach and the Indiana Dunes State Park beach. The idea struck Auricchio as she found herself one day at the beach reflexively picking up other people’s jetsam, and when she suggested to her friends the idea of holding a beach cleanup, they were happy to lend a hand. “A place that is so beautiful and that we’re so fortunate to have is disgusting because people don’t care how they treat it,” Auricchio told the Chesterton Tribune. “It’s very ignorant of people to think their actions won’t have an effect.”

Community effort

Since the first clean-up, on June 22, there were 11 others, averaging approximately 180 gallons of trash per week.

Yet it wasn’t just about taking back the beaches from the litterers. The cleanups promoted a wider community-mindedness. At the first one on June 22, there were almost 90 participants, almost all of them high school students. Later, as summer sports resumed and businesses fully re-opened, anywhere from 10 to 40 people would lend a hand. Equally impressive, the cleanups attracted the attention of local businesses. Biggby Coffee provided free drink tickets multiple times, which Auricchio noted were “very popular among the volunteers,” while IN Coast Apparel offered to fund the supplies (garbage bags and gloves). “It shows that people have the desire,” Auricchio said. “They just need some direction. I saw a need and felt inspired and I’m glad that it’s carried over to other parts of Chesterton.”

There was support too from those who work within the parks. While Auricchio didn’t need to seek permission from either Indiana Dunes National Park or Indiana Dunes State Park, she did receive the blessing of the DNR, which routinely offered extra garbage bags to the volunteers. And when reached by the Tribune, National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz also expressed his gratitude to the teens. “Like most of what happens here, success isn’t possible without the help from volunteers and park partners,” he said. “This summer especially, we needed all the help we could get to keep the beaches clean. The weekly efforts helped ensure our visitors enjoyed a clean and safe visit to their National Park. During this global health crisis, people are finding relief by being outdoors. The National Park Service was very appreciative of the weekly beach cleanups.”

For Auricchio, mass movements start small, and sometimes they start young. Just ask Greta Thunberg. What impressed Auricchio, over the course of the summer, was the willingness, even the eagerness, of strangers to join the teens as they policed the sands. Beach loungers would start picking up trash on their own and help fill garbage bags. Students who once passed each other as strangers in the hallways at CHS began connecting as comrades. “I want people to see that teenagers can have an impact on important things and that many are interested in making a difference,” Auricchio said.

In the end, Auricchio said, it’s a pretty simple thing to make a difference in the Dunes: pick up your own trash, and pick up others’. “After all, it’s just looking after the place we’re lucky enough to call home.”

Join In

Now that school is in session, daytime cleanups are no longer being scheduled. But Auricchio continues to organize evening events. To participate, visit “Indiana Dunes Beach Cleanup” on Facebook.



Posted 9/11/2020




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