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Project Sand leads volunteer dunes cleanup Saturday

January 16, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

Saturday is cleaning day at the Imperial Sand Dunes.

During busy holiday weekends, thousands of visitors camp at the dunes and more than a few don't clean up after themselves.

One day a year for the past five years, Jennifer Whyte, founder of Project Sand, has organized a dunes cleanup to pick up trash others leave behind.

"When I started five years ago, people told me it wouldn't work. They said I couldn't get enough people to help, so I came up with the idea of free T-shirts," Whyte said.

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Last year Whyte, of Orange, gave away 3,000 sponsored T-shirts, until she ran out, to volunteers at the cleanup. This year she expects a bigger crowd and is having 4,000 shirts made. She said the number of volunteers grows every year.

"This is the largest volunteer effort in the country," said Tom Sharkey, U.S. Bureau of Land Management volunteer coordinator at the El Centro office.

Whyte was recognized by the BLM with the National Volunteer Award in 1999, Sharkey said.

One day may not sound like enough to clean up the Imperial Sand Dunes, but Whyte said last year volunteers took 6,500 bags of trash out.

"And that's not even counting the stuff that didn't fit in the trash bags," she said. "We had some burned cars, big rolls of carpet … it's amazing what people find."

Whyte said the most interesting item volunteers found was a 1970s-era off-road motorcycle. The wind shifts the sand, putting the dunes in constant motion and sometimes uncovering relics, she said.

"People think of very inventive ways of pulling trash out of the dunes," Sharkey said.

Some campers bring wood pallets to the dunes for firewood. Once the wood is burned, the leftover nails are a hazard to tires and people.

Sharkey said he's seen people drag large magnet bars from the back of their off-road quad-cycles to pull the nails out of the sand.

"We couldn't do it if we didn't work together — that's the main thing," Whyte said.

Saturday's cleanup will start at 9 a.m. at the Cahuilla Ranger Station on Gecko Road off Highway 78.

Volunteers will get a T-shirt, while supplies last, and can eat at a free hot dog barbecue.

For more information, contact Whyte at (714) 633-8763 or on the Web at www.projectsand.org

For more information on Saturday's cleanup or other organized cleanups, go to the American Sand Association Web site at http://americansandassociation.org

Additional information is available from volunteer coordinator Dallas Meeks at the BLM El Centro office at 337-4400.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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