Faith groups pitch in for Colonial Parkway cleanup

Staff writer

It’s difficult to drive or bike down the Colonial Parkway without taking a moment to gaze out at the scenic views of the river. But what you may not notice are plastic bottles, wrappers and other trash strewn around the pull-off areas and nearby shoreline.

People from a handful of different faith groups spent Saturday morning at College Creek Beach along the parkway helping clean up the road and its surrounding natural resources. The event was organized by Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist congregation charter member Melissa Ackley, who said the members regularly try to participate in local environmental protection efforts as part of the climate action team and green sanctuary program.

Ackley said she wanted to help put the event together, and collaborated with other local faith organizations including the Quakers, the Church of God and Temple Beth El for Saturday’s cleanup. She also worked with Mike Byrd, volunteer and youth coordinator for Colonial National Historical Park, who said he regularly collaborates with local groups to organize similar cleanup events throughout the year.

Byrd said the shores surrounding the parkway are popular with anglers and families looking to swim in the river, which he advised against due to the strong rip tides.

“We have a lot of fishermen that go down here, so they typically leave a lot of trash and stuff like that, so we pick it up, and then they’ll leave the trash here and I’ll take it over to our maintenance facility right down the road and toss it out,” Byrd said. “This is one of many groups that comes out now and again to help us out, because they know the park is limited as far as resources go and we have a lot of visitors that come, especially locals and their kids.”

Byrd also works with larger organizations, including Anheuser-Busch and Wyndham Resorts, to sponsor community cleanup events. Last year, the Colonial National Historical Park volunteer and youth services program had more than 2,400 volunteers helping keep the park clean, Byrd said.

Without the help of volunteer groups, Byrd said only about 20 full-time park service employees would be tasked with maintaining both ends of the Colonial National Historical Park, the Colonial Parkway stretching from Historic Jamestowne to Yorktown Battlefield.

“We have a lot of informal community partners that help us to keep things at bay as best we can, but we’re very limited in resources,” he said.

Ackley said she hopes to make the College Creek cleanup event an annual occasion, and plans to bring the event back this fall.

“I think everybody needs to do their part, and this is something I can do. I don’t want to just sit at home and watch soap operas on TV. I want to be active and do something, and Mike is great to work with,” she said. “We have lots of tourists here and lots of locals who go back and forth from Jamestown to Yorktown, so it’s important.”

Unitarian Universalist congregation member Susan Holler was also at Saturday morning’s cleanup and said she wanted to participate to revisit her old stomping grounds as a former National Park Service employee. Don Ackley, Melissa’s husband, said he treasures the Colonial Parkway and wants others to care about keeping it clean.

“We’ve lived here for going on 50 years. We enjoy driving this stretch, we go out of our way to drive on this road if we have the time and it makes you sick to see what people are doing,” he said.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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