Volunteers spent Monday clearing hurricane debris from marsh at Silver Sands

About 100 volunteers braved the cold Monday to help pull tires, debris, a plastic snowman, and lots of other trash from the Great Creek Marsh at Silver Sands State Park.

The effort was the first official environmental event that resident Steve Johnson undertook since being named the city’s open space manager at the beginning of the year. He has led other cleanups before, involving some of the same volunteers who turned out to help clean the marsh on Martin Luther King Day. But those were before he took on an official role with the city.

Most of the debris gathered during the cleanup was from Hurricane Sandy. Entire porches had been pushed from streets that run off East Broadway across the marsh to the side that fronts West Mayflower Place.

“We knew there was a lot of stuff here,” Johnson said. “It was a question of timing as to when we’d be able to get in and take some of it out.”

Even though the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has suffered budget cuts, the department was able to send four employees, trucks and other gear to get the job done.

After everything was hauled out of the marsh, state officials took it away to be disposed of.

Johnson said the trash wasn’t destined for Milford’s transfer station and that no Milford resources, except its volunteers, were used for the work.

The list of volunteers included Milford’s mayor, Ben Blake, who helped another volunteer, Lisa Sullivan Korchman, pull a wooden picnic table from within the marsh.

Korchman said she was impressed with the mayor’s hands-on attitude, and pointed out that the wooden table was very heavy.

Among the volunteers were a lot of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from around the city, plus environmentally minded individuals who just wanted to help out. By the end of the day, most of them knew each other’s names as they put the final touches on their cleanup efforts.

A makeshift headquarters, consisting of a tent and tables, included baked goods and other food to keep the workers going. Scout leader Ed Abbazia manned an outdoor stove and a big pot of boiling water to keep the hot chocolate and tea ready for anyone starting to feel the pangs of the cold weather.

Sara Beck and Fiona Noyes were among the volunteers. Both are high school freshmen who live in the area and they came just because they wanted to help out. Sara helped at an earlier cleanup in November at the beach.

This time she told her friend Fiona, who decided to come along. They said they were surprised at the amount of debris in the marsh.

There were some interesting finds. Johnson said the most interesting was probably several letters, still intact, that date back to the 1960s and were addressed to a resident of Chetwood Street. He said he will try to track down the owner, assuming the letters meant something if they were kept all these years, until Hurricane Sandy decided to send them outside.