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Facebook provides an online medium for users to reconnect with long-lost friends, circulate dog videos and air grievances.

If you’re Jon Merryman or one of the 2,266 members of the Patapsco Facebook group, the website can also be used to catch littering culprits, identify historical artifacts and return stolen or lost items to their original owners.

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A Facebook group once managed by the Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway Foundation now functions partly as “the Patapsco Valley locator service,” as dubbed by longtime Catonsville resident Merryman.

In October, Merryman posted a photo of a wallet he found while cleaning up at Hillcrest Park in Lansdowne, containing the Mount De Sales Academy student I.D. card of Amanda France.

After numerous shares and some social media sleuthing, one group member found her Facebook profile “within 15 minutes” and shared it to the thread, Merryman said. The now-married Mount De Sales graduate, Amanda Gibson, was notified by her cousin-in-law of the group posting, Gibson wrote.

Gibson said her wallet was stolen in 2014 from her grandmother’s car near Hillcrest Park on her college graduation day.

“I thought I’d never see this ever again. Amazing!” she wrote to the Facebook group.

Gibson told Baltimore Sun Media that cash and gift cards had been taken from the wallet, but her drivers icense and debit card were left inside when she picked it up from Merryman.

“My license is still good until 2022, so that is nice,” Gibson wrote.

In the Patapsco Valley, “it’s like six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” Merryman said. “I love to let the community do … the sleuthing when I can.”

Merryman has spent a decade as a freelance debris cleaner, picking up litter around the Patapsco Valley for many hours every week.

When he took over as moderator of the Patapsco group about five years ago, Merryman saw it as a way to connect those who reside in the Patapsco Valley communities, from Baltimore County’s Catonsville and Howard County’s Ellicott City to Carroll County’s Mount Airy and Deep Run in Anne Arundel, he said.

It started as “mostly just an echo chamber for me posting things [about the valley], people hitting ‘like,’” Merryman said. As group membership grew, “it just kind of became a magnet for people to post their thoughts and pictures, [and] share a common love for this valley.”

Merryman posts finds from his trash cleaning days around the valley, seven days a week. Often, he removes discarded tires, Styrofoam cups and plastic bottles. He’s uncovered Native American-crafted arrowheads and carving tools; baby doll heads; calcified remnants of an old wooden sailing boat near what used to be the Elk Ridge Port; and chicken bone-filled trash cans.

Just as Patapsco group members assisted Merryman’s search for Gibson, Merryman has enlisted them for other cases in the past.

The group found the culprit of an illegally dumped Subaru station wagon on Race Road in Elkridge; and during the summer, Merryman discovered a string of illegal blue crab dumpings that led to an investigation by the Maryland Natural Resources Police after a member called the authorities, he said.

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“We had a huge spike of people wanting to join [the private group] because of that,” Merryman said.

When he started his routine cleanups, Merryman found “lots of stuff that had been there for decades, and some of it has historical value,” like old pull-top beer cans popular from 1965 to 1975, and milk bottles from the 1920s, he said.

The vintage trash is mostly gone now, but despite cleanup efforts, the waste continues to collect in stream beds, swales and on roadsides, Merryman said.

“It’s discouraging the people continue to trash the place,” Merryman said. “But at the same time, I see this snowballing of people caring.”

Patapsco Facebook group members will post photos of their own cleanups, and Merryman said he’s been told that the group’s existence and posting his own cleanup efforts are “motivating other people to do it,” either alone or by connecting with community associations that host cleanup day events.

James Wilkerson, president of the Oella Homeowners Association, joined the Patapsco group this past year, after residents approached Wilkerson about the uptick in litter found in green spaces along Oella Avenue.

Wilkerson joined the group “as a way to stay in the know about different things that are going on within the region,” but “from the first day I joined, I was seeing posts abut various cleanup efforts,” he said.

Wilkerson became motivated to embark on his own cleanups after seeing a post from Merryman cleaning up an area across the Patapsco River from Oella.

Even though Merryman doesn’t live in Oella, “Here he is picking up trash just across the river from where we are,” Wilkerson said. “I felt kind of shamed into taking some action.”

Wilkerson said during the summer, he and others in Oella would pick up litter along Oella Avenue and post his work to the group. When he noticed people using the green space and private beaches, instead of asking trespassers to leave, Wilkerson asked them to respect the land and clean up after themselves. He said the outreach led to a reduction in litter in the summer.

"That had more of an impact than simply going down there and begrudgingly picking up trash and not saying a word to everybody,” Wilkerson said.

“There’s more of us out there than we realize, the people that care,” Merryman said. “Facebook and other [social media] have been able to let us find each other and commiserate together, and work together.”

This year, Merryman set a goal to remove 100,000 pieces of trash on his cleanups. In early October, Merryman had removed 92,000 pieces of trash, mostly from the Patapsco Valley and its surrounding areas.

As Merryman closes in on his goal, he’s launched a contest of sorts for group members to guess what his 100,000th piece of litter will be. He’s asked them to pick up one piece of litter on their own during the course of their day, and post it to the group as their guess.

The person who guesses correctly will win a hiking stick carved by the late Teddy Betts, a celebrated member of the Friends of the Patapsco River who dedicated much of his time to cleaning the Patapsco River and creating rock sculptures.

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