Column: Volunteer cleanups protect the true beauty of False Cape State Park

Valerie Vanchieri of Sandbridge and Michelle Cobb of Virginia Beach walk along the ocean at False Cape State Park while keeping an eye out for litter during a beach cleanup on Saturday, June 12, 2021. Cleanups of the remote beach are held monthly. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Jane Bloodworth Rowe [Courtesy]
Ed. — From the Sunday, June 20, print edition.


VIRGINIA BEACH — A Saturday morning in June dawned grey and drizzly, but that didn’t deter the 11 volunteers who had come to pick up trash along False Cape State Park’s six miles of ocean beaches.  

The cleanup crew many of whom were members of Friends of False Cape or Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, was led by Bruce Julian, a volunteer for nearly three decades.

I worked with them, as I did more regularly years ago when I was a member of the Friends.

I love the park. Picking up the trash is a little thing I can do to help. If that’s not reason enough, you get to go to False Cape and experience its beauty.

It was a blustery day on Saturday, June 12, and the high north winds kept the temperature unusually cool for June. A fine, windswept rain fell for much of the three-hour pickup, but the group, who were walking southward along the beach, had their backs to the wind and rain. We rode back northward in beach-going vehicles.

Volunteers collected about 250 pounds of trash, which was a bit light. Past beach pickups have yielded several times that amount. I’ve done a few trash pick-ups down there over the years, and that’s the least litter that I can ever remember seeing. 

I like to think that meant that people respect the environment more and litter less these days, but I suspect that an unusually high tide had buried much of the debris under the ocean waves.

Few people get too far southward into the park because False Cape is a wilderness beach that’s only accessible by hiking or bicycling from Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most litter probably washes onto the beach with the tide then washes back out to sea again where it can harm marine life.  

Volunteers on that day found a number of small plastic objects that could be easily ingested by fish and sea mammals, including bottle tops, small toys and – curiously enough – plastic cigarillo tips.

Volunteer John Oakes noted that every time he cleans up the beach, one or two items are particularly abundant. On that day, it was cigarillo tips. Other days? Bottle tops.

I can remember when soda cans and bottles were prominent several years ago, but they seemed to have been eclipsed now by plastic straws and drink lids.

Of course, there are always balloons and string, which cause serious entanglement issues. I think that most of us have seen pictures of dead birds caught in lines. I’ll never forget the time I saw Back Bay Wildlife Refuge’s beach littered with dead fish and birds, many with lines around their necks.

Despite the less-than-perfect weather, the June 12 cleanup, like most of them have been for me, was fun. Every time I go to False Cape, I’m rewarded by something that I haven’t noticed before. This time, I saw a very large group of pelicans – the largest I’ve ever seen clustered in one place – right along the water line.

I also noticed a yucca growing on the east side of a dune. It grows abundantly in the park’s interior, but I don’t remember seeing it on the eastern edge of the dune line.

There’s something about a misty, grey beach that’s appealing. It’s nice to travel almost to the North Carolina line. I don’t get that far south very often on my own because it really takes a lot of time and energy to walk the 19 or 20-mile round trip from the refuge.

But riding south for a beach cleanup puts you in a beautiful, remote place to do needed work, and you’re in good company.

Volunteer Laura Ingram picks up a balloon during the cleanup at False Cape State Park on Saturday, June 12, 2021. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Volunteer Jane Oakes picks up another balloon during the cleanup at False Cape State Park on Saturday, June 12, 2021. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
A group of terns — and a nearby gull — take flight at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday, June 12, 2021. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

The next Friends of False Cape beach cleanup is at 8 a.m., Saturday, July 17. Volunteers must register at least three days in advance by calling (757) 426-7128.

The author is a contributor to The Independent News. Her journalism has also appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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