Cleanup day is annual rite of spring

Some nations celebrate the start of May with Beltane, the Celtic festival marking the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstices. Other countries consider May Day as labor day, the day to honor workers. In Homer, we get down and dirty the first Saturday of May with our annual Cleanup Day as local volunteers pick up trash and recyclables all over town and wherever it emerges from breakup.

Organized by the Homer Chamber of Commerce, with this year’s major business sponsor AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse, Cleanup Day is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The Kachemak Bay Lions Club serves a barbecue and AJ’s holds a party after the cleanup with music by Elders on Fire.

Saturday is the day to deliver big yellow bags of trash and recyclable material, but already, individuals and groups have been scouring Homer’s streets and beaches, getting a jump on Cleanup Day and maybe winning prizes awarded to families, individuals and groups for the most bags of trash or recyclable material collected. Prizes are paid in Homer Bucks, the local currency minted by the chamber and redeemable at participating businesses.

Recylables like aluminum, glass and plastic should be sorted out in separate bags. Gift certificates in clear plastic bags will be scattered around town as an incentive. The Lions Club also has donated four youth bicycles to be raffled off, with a raffle ticket earned by bringing in bags of trash.

One group making a cleanup push is Homer Wilderness Leaders, or HoWL, with its DiRtBaGs, or Discount Rates to Boys and Girls, program. To earn money for scholarships to summer outdoor adventures, Dirtbaggers get pledges for bags of trash collected. That money goes to HoWL to support scholarships, with business donors adding to scholarships. HoWL has been caching an ever growing mountain of trash at its headquarters on Ocean Drive and will enter its take as a group in the Cleanup Day contest. It hopes to repeat its 2012 win, when 50 Dirtbaggers picked up 4,444 pounds of trash, said HoWL director Libby Veasey. She expects about 55 Dirtbaggers this year.

“Because we’ve been picking up trash early this year, we’re probably going to win again,” she said.

That kind of cleanup strategy isn’t cheating and is encouraged, as long as people deliver trash only on Saturday, said Maya Rourke, this year’s cleanup coordinator. The chamber is keeping track of areas where people have been cleaning up.

“Wherever people go and if they’ve been somewhere, tell me,” she said. “I have a big map. We try to get every area or as many as we can.”

This week, HoWL focused cleanup in the neighborhoods around its major business sponsors, Wells Fargo, Bulletproof Nets and the Homer Veterinary Clinic. On Saturday, the Dirtbaggers will target Bishop’s Beach.

Either Homer has been better at picking up trash or there has been more trash. In 2011 volunteers brought in 722 bags, 88 of which were recyclable material, and last year 1,338 bags were collected, with 239 recyclables. 

Veasey said most of the trash collected by Dirtbaggers is beer cans and bottles. They’ve been finding weird trash this year, like four flounder fish found in the woods behind Safeway. Frequently they find old tires. This year the Dirtbaggers also found a rusty 55-gallon drum.

The strangest trash found last year?

“We found a round of ammo last year, found a clip,” Veasey said. 

They turned that in to Homer Police.

Other youth organizations also have won in previous years for most bags collected. If there’s a bit of competition, well, that’s a good thing, Veasey said.

“Everybody wins. The town gets cleaned up,” she said. “It’s good for the kids to get a little community service.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at