The wind and waves giveth, David Roosa picks up

Mon, 11/19/2007 - 6:00am
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The recent storm came and left, and besides a few broken branches and cracked flowerpots the island didn’t suffer much.

Well, that depends on your vantage point.

For David Roosa, an island presence for more than 30 years, the winds and waves brought days of work. As he has for decades, Roosa walks the rocky and sandy edges of the island with a garbage bag in hand to remove the garbage that collects there. It’s Roosa’s favorite off-season activity. “I can’t stand to walk the beach and not pick up stuff. It bothers me,” he says.

In his experience, there has always been something to pick up, and “the storms just keep bringing more stuff in.” As most popular items, Roosa lists coffee cups, plastic bottles, cans and lobster pots. “I did about two bags on sunset yesterday,” he says, and most of it was Styrofoam and plastic. “These are the most important things to get out of there, because they don’t decompose,” Roosa explains. “Lobster pots rust away.”

The small things he has no trouble picking up. After stuffing everything into garbage bags, Roosa tosses them in his van, where he has taken the seats out to fit as much as possible. Then he goes home and empties all the bags to separate the recyclables. “I recycle whatever I can,” he says, although Block Island Recycling Management (BIRM) doesn’t charge him for the bags of trash he brings from his beachcombing. “Generally, if people pick up stuff from the beach we understand that they’ve gone through great labor and wave the fee,” said BIRM Co-Owner Sean McGarry. “It’s the least we can do to facilitate the disposal because they have done the bulk of the work.”

Sometimes, however, Roosa comes across bigger items washed ashore that are not as easy to rid of. Recently he dragged a 14-foot pipe to his truck, and says a 20-foot one still lies at the beach south of Settlers’ Rock. Some objects are too heavy to drag; others, too long to fit in the van. But “I do what I can,” he says.

Another target of his is an aluminum boat in the Southwest Point area. “It’s hard to get a place to tow big things out of there,” he says. “All properties around the cliff belong to someone, so I’d have to ask permission.”

Since he started his hobby up again about two months ago, he has dumped about three-quarters of a ton, he says, of which at least 30 percent was recyclable. He has covered about seven miles of the island’s approximately 19 miles of beach, and says the hardest part is yet to come.

“There are only 10 access points that I know of to take a vehicle,” he says, and some areas require carrying the bags a while. He has completed the stretch from St. Andrew Parish Center to Clay Head, 1.5 miles in the Black Rock area, and half a mile each near Cooneymus Road, West Beach and Settlers’ Rock, and below the Southeast Lighthouse.

The project, he estimates, will take him until summer. “I don’t even know if I will be able to do the whole thing.” Sometimes his children Luke and Hope join him, and occasionally his friends help him with heavier things. “It’s good exercise,” says Roosa, who likes to spend a large part of his days outdoors. “Instead of lifting weights, I drag garbage bags.”

In addition, “it makes me feel good that I am trying to do my part to protect the environment,” he says.

Roosa’s personal effort to clean the island’s beaches was written about in these pages in January 1993, when he was selected to be the 1992 Bayberry Wreath Laureate.

Roosa urges anyone interested to join him and says he can make use of a four-wheel-drive vehicle for some remote beach areas. Otherwise, he advises, grab a bag when you go for a walk at the beach.

“All I takes is a little bit of help from a few people,” especially in a never-ending project like cleaning what the waves and winds bring every day.