That little 4-year-old girl who started a local beach cleanup 10 years ago is almost 14 now, and she’s still getting people out to clean up the beaches.

Mackenzie’s Beach Cleanup, now in its 10th year, will take place Saturday, May 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Walnut Beach, Silver Sands Beach and Gulf Beach.

Anyone and everyone is welcome to join in and pitch in.

While they’re there, they’re likely to meet Mackenzie, who is definitely a hands-on kind of girl, as she has been for the past 10 years.

She recalled the start of it all as she chatted this weekend at Walnut Beach.

“We live near the beach and we would come and maybe bike or just go walking, and I would see garbage and it bothered me as a 4-year-old,” Mackenzie said.

“One day I was watching Nickelodeon, and some sort of little announcement came on about recycling and the power of helping your beaches and I took that to heart, and I kept bothering my parents and asking them if could do a beach cleanup.”
The first few times they didn’t take their 4-year-old seriously. But by the fourth our fifth time, they did.

John Powers took his daughter to a Walnut Beach Association meeting and lifted her onto a chair to address the group. The association had done one organized beach cleanup, but it was happy to let Mackenzie take the lead on the next one in 2009, which became the first Mackenzie’s Beach Cleanup.   

About 50 people showed up the first year.

Now the annual cleanup has grown even bigger: Mackenzie expects a couple of hundred people between the three locations Saturday. Other groups have stepped in to help out over the years. Now, in addition to the original participants — the Walnut Beach Association and Walnut Beach Creamery — participating and sponsoring groups include high school Key Clubs, Stratford Home Depot, Spectrum, Girl Scout troops, Save Our Sound, the Surfrider Foundation, and Safe Harbors. The Milford Fire Department is providing an all-terrain vehicle to transport some of the heavier items, and the city’s Public Works Department, as in the past, will take all the trash away after it’s collected.

Family is a big part of the effort. Mackenzie’s father, John, and mother, Joanna, help with paperwork and logistics for the annual cleanups. Her grandmother helps collect trash at the beaches, and she takes pictures.

This year, Mackenzie is excited for a few reasons: One of those reasons is hope.

The amount of trash on the beaches has gotten less and less over the years, and Mackenzie thinks people are getting the message and not littering.

But still there’s plenty to keep a bunch of people busy much of day, picking up tires, metal, plastics, and all sorts of garbage that finds its way to Milford’s shoreline.

The annual cleanup, she said, has become part of who she is.

“I know I definitely get recognized for it,” she said. “It’s one of the things that make me me.”

She has grown into a young woman who likes to help the environment. She takes part in beach and river cleanups and has helped pull invasive plants from Walut Beach.

Young Girl Scouts she works with are excited to meet her, and it makes her feel good that younger girls look up to her and that she is inspiring them.

She is a competitive gymnast — she was a Level 3 Senior Division All Around Champion in the State Games of America in her level and age group last year. She volunteers with a Girl Scout troop. Her Cadette troop disbanded, and since she really wanted to continue with scouting, she has been working solo on her Cadette badges. She volunteers with Colbert Veterinary Rescue out of Georgia, helping to find homes for abused and neglected dogs.

“I’m what they call a runner,” she said about Colbert-sponsored dog adoption events. “My friends and I will take the applications and run them back and forth.”

Mackenzie and her parents have two dogs, one rescued from Colbert and the other from another rescue organization.

An eighth grader at West Shore Middle School, she is ready for high school next year at Jonathan Law.

She’s not sure what she wants to do after high school, but likely she will study in the science field or in some field that benefits animals.

She was a finalist in the Mayor’s Youth Award program and received a superintendent’s award.

People don’t have to bring anything with them to the cleanups Saturday. “They just have to show up with the attitude that they want to do something good,” Mackenzie said.

She recommends high socks or long pants to protect from ticks, and no open-toed shoes.

There will be three check-in tables, one at Walnut Beach, one at Silver Sands State Park and one at Gulf Beach. Bags and gloves will be provided and there will be

free ice cream for the first 100 volunteers, donated by Walnut Beach Creamery.

Check out the facebook page: www.facebook.com/mackenziesbeachcleanup.