COLUMBIA — Veronica Clare walks in Lions-Stephens Park every day.
Saturday was no exception, but instead of her usual stroll, she spent the unseasonably cold morning picking up the trash littering the park’s grounds.
“I like to be a part of things like this,” said Clare, who lives near the park. “It’s a nice piece of a little bit of nature in the middle of the city.”
Clare was one of about 15 Benton-Stephens neighborhood association volunteers who spent a cold, wet Saturday morning cleaning up the park as part of the 12th annual Cleanup Columbia. Despite the weather, about 1,200 volunteers participated in the citywide event, picking up 1,548 bags of trash, said Leigh Britt, volunteer coordinator for the city’s Office of Volunteer Services.
Britt said even with Saturday’s weather, the numbers from this year’s cleanup greatly exceeded those from last year, when conditions were even worse. Last year, about 900 volunteers turned out.
“We really had a great response,” Britt said. “It’s just amazing what people did.”
The totals will likely grow as the Office of Volunteer Services gathers more information. Forty-six groups turned in numbers at the post-cleanup barbecue at Twin Lakes Recreation Area and Britt said they’ll be collecting data from other groups in the coming weeks. Britt also said that more than 150 volunteers rescheduled their cleanups for sometime in the next month because of Saturday’s weather.
Kip Kendrick, vice president of the Benton-Stephens neighborhood association, helped organize the cleanup at Lions-Stephens Park and said he likes to get involved in anything that builds community in the area. Kendrick said the park gets a lot of local traffic.
“Even though it’s cold, we’ve had a great turnout,” he said. “I think that speaks volumes for the park.”
Volunteer Sarah Wolken spent part of the morning working along the park’s small stream and said more trash had accumulated there because of the recent rain. Wolken works for the Missouri Stream Team Program, which involves volunteers in stream conservation efforts.
“I’d be expecting more if it were nice outside, but we’ve gotten the job done,” Wolken said of the number of volunteers. “It got the stream clean, and that’s all that matters.”
Wolken said the turnout is a reflection of how much Benton-Stephens residents care about their neighborhood.
“People really dedicate themselves to making our community better,” Wolken said. “It’s unreal how much people who live in this neighborhood love this neighborhood.”
MU junior Julie Miller picked up trash along Stadium Boulevard with 27 other members of Sigma Phi Lambda, a Christian sorority. Miller said the work was fun, but messy.
“I think I learned a lesson in how many people litter,” she said.
This was Sister Francine Koehler’s second year volunteering for Cleanup Columbia, although she said she frequently cleans up trash on her own time, too. On Saturday, she and a friend cleaned up the area near Hathman Village Shopping Center on the west side of Paris Road.
“We didn’t get too far because it was so filthy,” Koehler said.
Koehler said she was originally scheduled to clean up the area near Sacred Heart Church, but decided it was not dirty enough and e-mailed to ask for a different location that needed more help.
“I just like it to be a clean Earth, and that’s why I did it,” Koehler said.
Debra Hardin, program assistant for the Office of Volunteer Services, said she thinks many people participate because it’s an easy way to help beautify Columbia.
“It’s a one-time event where they can actually make a difference,” Hardin said. “They can come out for just a few hours.”
About 450 volunteers from sites around Columbia attended the barbecue after the cleanup. Under a large gazebo, volunteers bundled up in coats, hats and gloves ate ribs and baked beans while talking about the interesting items they had found.
Mayor Darwin Hindman, who also lent a hand in the cleanup, congratulated participants on their hard work.
“It really makes Columbia a better place to live,” he said.