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Spring Cleaning Alfresco

Earth Day: Hundreds of volunteers do a good turn for the planet by taking part in county beautification projects.


LAGUNA NIGUEL — After learning in school all year about the dangers of pollution, 6-year-old Eric Anderson raced to Salt Creek Beach Park on Saturday. He wasn't there to splash in the waves or play in the sand, but to comb the rocks in search of trash.

"I'm finding all kinds of things," he said, enthusiastically holding up a dirty beer container and several cigarette butts in his gloved hands.

Eric was one of dozens of John Malcom Elementary School students who, with their families, spent the day cleaning their neighborhood beaches. They filled trash bags with aluminum cans, bits of plastic foam, broken bottles, straws, popped balloons, plastic, string and other garbage they found at Salt Creek and the Strand beaches in Laguna Niguel and Dana Point. They were just a few of the hundreds of people who participated in similar beautification projects throughout the county.

"I love helping the Earth," Eric said. "I want to keep it clean so things can live longer on it, like sea creatures, animals, everything, even us."

His school organized the cleanup as an early celebration of Earth Day, which is Monday. Malcom Principal Dave Gerhard said the event was the highlight of the school's year-round ecology awareness campaign.

"We're teaching kids to take responsibility for their environment, their community, and fostering attitudes and characteristics that will help them be better citizens," Gerhard said.

Added Judy Alldredge, the school's PTA chairwoman: "The message today is that the litter left on the beach goes into the ocean and endangers sea life and human life. We want to reduce the dangers and raise awareness. . . . Don't walk by trash. Bend over and pick it up."

She said the students also have been raising money and donating paper towels, rags, bandages and other needed items to two local nonprofit agencies that rescue ocean animals--the Laguna Beach Friends of the Sea Lion Marine Mammal Center and the Pacific Wildlife Project.

Cleaning beaches "is just one thing you could do to take care of the Earth," said Bob Cudney, who bagged orange peels, paper and other debris at the Strand with his 8-year-old daughter, Lauren. "There are a lot of other things you can do."

Indeed, said Mike Howard, executive director of Operation Clean Slate, a nonprofit organization that helps Orange County youths remove graffiti and paint murals.

Howard also observed Earth Day on Saturday with a group of students from Cal State Fullerton and Century High School in Santa Ana and others. Clad in bright orange vests, they took to the streets of Santa Ana, picking up trash and painting over and wiping off graffiti from street signs, light fixtures, bus benches, business buildings and homes.

"Every day is Earth Day," Howard said. "We should concentrate on cleaning up our community every day."

Genevieve Witenko, of Brea, said participation is key.

"When you pick up trash yourself, you gain more respect for the Earth," said Witenko, who participated in the Santa Ana event. "The little effort of picking up one piece of trash can make such a big difference."

Howard said many people don't realize how polluted their community is until they try to clean it. "There's so much trash, you become immune to it," he said. "That's why everyone should get involved" in cleanup efforts and ecology awareness projects.

Hundreds of people throughout the county participated in a wide variety of environmental programs Saturday and more are expected to do so today and Monday.

The public is being invited to such events, including:

* Nature tours, canoe and kayak tours, and environmental exhibits at Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, 600 Shellmaker Road in Newport Beach, today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: (714) 640-6746.

* Environmental fair, wildlife art show and 5K walk at Peralta Canyon Park, 115 N. Pinney Drive in Anaheim Hills, today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: (714) 254-5277.

* Tree planting activities at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: (714) 768-6662.

* An educational symposium highlighting speakers on vegetarian food and information on environmental issues and jobs at Irvine Valley College on Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: (714) 559-7426.

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