If historians can learn about a civilization by the waste left behind, yesterday's trash-strewn infield of Pimlico Race Course sent one message.
"They're party people," said Arthur Ricks, a racecourse employee who spent yesterday cleaning up around the course after the 126th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. "No, they're party animals."
An estimated 150 volunteers helped clean the racecourse infield yesterday, with the proceeds of the work being dedicated to purchasing rain forest in Costa Rica.
The arrangement is part of an agreement that the racecourse has held for 12 years with environmental groups. The Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show coordinated yesterday's cleanup, which also included volunteers from the National Aquarium.
"It's a challenge," said Lou Curran, a lawyer who volunteered yesterday. "It's like picking up after Woodstock; it's 70,000 to 80,000 people having a picnic."
Items found among the debris ran the gamut, said Tim Hoen, president of MARS. Yesterday, Hoen said, volunteers found a ladies' Rolex watch, $100 in cash and wallets.
"I have a box of car keys and hotel keys," Hoen said.
Yet the most treasured commodity for the group are the aluminum beer cans that shimmer on the littered infield. Last year, the group received $2,600 for the cans, getting 34 cents a pound. That amounts to 7,647 pounds, a little more than 3 tons of beer cans.
"Every year, you get a bit overwhelmed," said Jack Kover, a volunteer and curator for the National Aquarium's rain forest exhibit. "But taking this big mess and turning it into something good is a good incentive."
Don Rankin is president of Pritchard Sports and Entertainment Group, which is in charge of the racecourse cleanup. It was Rankin who proposed paying the environmental groups to clean the racecourse the day after the Preakness.
"It's actually a lot better than years ago," said Rankin, a retired Baltimore police officer. "Years ago, you would find people sleeping."
Volunteers estimated yesterday that they could net as much as $10,000 from the cleanup. In addition to the payment from the racecourse and the money generated from recycling, the group received grants from Budweiser and the Exxon Corp.
Rankin's company handles cleanups for arenas and stadiums across the nation but calls Pimlico the day after the Preakness the granddaddy of them all.
"This event is one of a kind in terms of trash," Rankin said. "What also makes it unique is that the money goes for a good cause."
In the 12 years since the arrangement, the groups have raised $78,000, which has gone to purchase 678 acres of rain forest in Costa Rica's Talamanca Biosphere Reserve, they said.
Yesterday's cleanup began at 6 a.m. when lines of gloved volunteers swept the infield first to pick up the cans. Then they took to the grass with rakes, pulling the trash into neat piles. The final step was putting the piles into clear trash bags.
Heather Bosley, the owner of a Cockeysville pet fish store, recruited 35 volunteers for the cleanup, she said.
"It's just one of those things you get sucked into," said Bosley, who owns 2001 A Fish Odyssey at 51 E. Padonia Ave. "I tell my [employees], 'I'm trying to save the world.'"