Participants never know what they will turn up during the community-wide cleanup held in Towson twice a year.
On Saturday, at the Towson American Legion Post 22, the 75 volunteers pulled a circa 1950 Ford V-6 motor from the stream, unearthed a tire graveyard with more than 100 tires, and discovered a makeshift living space with a bed, firepit and chairs in a wooded area behind the building.
The cleanup project at the legion post was one of 27 conducted Oct. 19 throughout Towson and sponsored jointly by the Towson Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and Towson University.
More than 200 Towson University students joined at least 40 other volunteers for the Saturday fall cleanup, according to Mike Ertel, vice president of the council.
"We got a lot done," said Ertel, noting this is the sixth year of the event. "You try to get it down to a science, so everything gets done and nothing slips through the cracks. It was very efficient."
The cleanups took place in Towson Estate, Stoneleigh, Knollwood-Donnybrook, Burkleigh Square, Aigburth Manor, West Towson, Idlewylde and downtown Towson. Along with cleaning the grounds and stream bed at the American Legion post, volunteers mulched throughout downtown, did yardwork for elderly and disabled residents, picked up trash and pulled weeds away from signs from Fairmount Avenue by the Beltway to Towson's campus and from Carver School for Arts & Technology to Chesapeake Avenue.
Ertel said there is no cost associated with the event as the chamber pays for the mulch for downtown Towson, the county donates Dumpsters free of charge and the American Legion provides lunch for volunteers.
Ertel said council representatives went to the chamber with the idea for the cleanups and then pulled in Towson University as a third sponsor.
At each project site, volunteers leaders direct the students.
"We really wouldn't be able to do it without the TU students, because they provide the bulk of the manpower," Ertel said.
He said the cleanup also serves to bring students and community members together to work for a common goal and helps students identify with a particular neighborhood or area.
Mike Parr, of the American Legion, said Saturday's cleanup also helped to develop relationships with students looking to earn community service hours in future projects.
Ertel said he is amazed at the transformation throughout Towson as a result of the cleanup.
"There were five mattresses in the Greene Turtle [Sports Bar & Grille] alley for some reason; it looked horrifying," Ertel said. After it was cleaned up, Ertel said, "This is what the alley should look like."
While Ertel would deem the twice-a-year project successful, he questioned why and how some of the areas, especially in downtown Towson, continue to need to be cleaned year after year.
"Somebody is falling down on the job that we have to put in this much effort in the core twice a year," Ertel said. "If the county and businesses are serious about development in Towson, it's time to take pride to clean up the properties."
For the volunteers, however, the event provides a chance to join others and do something for the good of the community.
"People want to do something to help but they don't always know how to," Ertel said. "They feel empowered."
The next Towson-wide cleanup will take place April 26. To volunteer, contact the Towson Chamber of Commerce at 410-825-1144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to GTCCA at gtcca.org.