Jennifer and Adam Wilson, of Whiteford, had one of their first dates watching the fireworks overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on Fourth of July at Millard Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.
Years later, the couple and their 2-year-old son, Samuel, walked along the same shore picking up trash and debris Saturday morning for the 14th annual River Sweep.
"It's just knowing that we are helping the Bay and preserving it for future generations," Jennifer Wilson said. "Especially now that we have a son."
The Wilsons have been joining hundreds of other Harford County residents at the park for eight years to pick up bottle caps, shoes and other debris from along the shoreline to stop it from getting into the Chesapeake Bay.
"We pulled a lot of trash out of there," Jennifer Wilson said. "And every year we pull a little bit less. It feels like we are making a dent."
River Sweep is a volunteer shoreline and roadside clean-up in honor of Earth Day that is sponsored by the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway. Participants spend the morning removing trash and other debris the Chesapeake Bay, Susquehanna River and tributaries that feed into the river.
Organizers said Tuesday that more than 1,000 volunteers participated and picked up more than 900 pounds of trash in Havre de Grace alone.
This year's River Sweep sites were in Havre de Grace, Perryville and Port Deposit and on Garrett Island. Added this year were the National Historic Tome School, on what was the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, and the Conowingo Creek Boat Launch in Conowingo.
Adam Wilson said the Chesapeake Bay helps bring the community together. He said all kind of people – fisherman, boaters, crabbers – use the Bay.
Volunteers have been gathering for years to keep the shoreline and promenade in Tydings Park clean.
John Narvell, president of the Havre de Grace Recreation Committee, said the group started gathering in October during Maryland Community Service Day. He said the volunteers eventually switched their cleanup day to the spring, in time for increased use of the park by area residents.
"We started last week at the Easter egg hunt," Narvell said. "We told people: Be safe, have fun and if you see a piece of paper pick it up."
Narvell said he hopes encouraging people to clean up the park and Bay will alleviate some of the burden of cleaning it for the city. He said the city can then focus its funds on other efforts.
"It's everyone's obligation to keep their area clean and if they can't we should help," Narvell said.
Narvell said the shoreline in Havre de a Grace picks up a lot of silt, debris and trash carried hundreds of miles from the north as the Susquehanna's waters make their journey from upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay.
He said most of what's done in the north impacts the health of the river in Havre de Grace and other parts of Maryland, as well as the Bay.
Ellianna Andreen, 8, and other Girl Scouts grabbed yellow plastic trash bags and picked up trash in the park.
Ellianna, who comes to play at the park often, said she picks up trash "so the animals can live and stay safe."
She said she wants to keep the environment safe.
The Girl Scouts were using River Sweep in hopes of earning a journey patch that shows a commitment and caring for animals.
According to the sponsoring organizations, tons of trash were picked up during this year's River Sweep.
In Havre de Grace, volunteers removed 900 pounds of trash including five propane tanks, 12 tires and one monster tire, large metal cylinders reminiscent of airplane parts, a shopping cart and car batteries in addition to other trash and debris. Volunteers included individuals, families, Girl Scout Troops and senior citizens plus Havre de Grace Green Team, CAT (Citizens Against Trash), Havre de Grace Recreation Committee and volunteers from Vulcan Materials.
In Marina Park in Port Deposit, volunteers filled a 15-yard dumpster with trash and debris.
In the Octoraro Creek area north of Port Deposit, volunteers collected approximately 30 bags of trash including two tires, carpet and a tarp. At the Conowingo Creek Boat Launch, volunteers from Perryville Middle School, Conowingo Elementary School, Rising Sun High School, Conowingo Lions Club and MSSA collected 100 bags of trash and debris.
The Perryville volunteers, which included a Brownie Troop, families from Conowingo Elementary School and staffers from Hollywood Casino at Perryville plus those with canoes and kayaks who visited Garrett Island, removed about two tons of trash including 10 tires, several compressed air or acetylene tanks, a full-size refrigerator and a large plastic tank.
At the National Historic Tome School, volunteers removed five dump truck loads of trash and 34 bags of debris. The debris was repurposed on another location of the site to fertilize the grounds. Volunteers at the National Historic Tome School included the Perryville High School men's lacrosse team.
At Principio Furnace, students at Perryville Middle School cleared brush and debris from the creek and historic site, and on May 6, Elkton Middle School students will complete the job.
Totals for River Sweep 2014 are still being calculated, but organizers noted in a statement that in the prior 13 years, more that 72 tons of trash and junk has been removed from the shorelines, the river and the bay.
In addition to the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, sponsors of the 2014 River Sweep included Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and Exelon Generation. In-kind services such as trash disposal were provided by Harford and Cecil county governments, the Town of Port Deposit, Town of Perryville and the City of Havre de Grace
Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway is a nonprofit organization based in Darlington whose mission is to stimulate local economic activity by developing a linkage to natural, historic and cultural resources through land and water recreational trails. To date, 22 miles of continuous public recreation trails connecting Harford and Cecil counties have been constructed. The trail system also has been designated a priority segment of both the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. For more information about Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, visit http://www.hitourtrails.com.