MILTON — For the past 34 years, the organization Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful has been conducting projects to increase the quality of life in Santa Rosa County and beyond. 

KSRB began in 1983 as The Milton Clean Community System. The organization started recruiting volunteers and conducting cleanups in the city. 

Capt. Walt Reese (USN Ret.) joined the organization that year. At the time, he was the Milton High School Senior Navy Science Instructor. Reese had already been conducting river cleanups with his NJROTC recruits since 1980 and is still doing so today as a KSRB board member.

The organization became an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful in 1984 and is the third oldest affiliate in the state. In 1989, the organization became county-wide and changed names to The Santa Rosa Clean Community System. Today, the organization is Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful to share a common brand with Keep America Beautiful affiliates.

Major cleanups and programs include The Great American Clean-Up, Rivers Clean-Up, International Coastal Clean-Up, and the Adopt A Spot program.  Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful also engages in beautification, environmental educational outreach, is the mother organization of The Panhandle Butterfly House and owns The Green-Up Nursery at 6758 Park Ave. in Milton. The nursery is open to the public and all proceeds from sales at the nursery go into beautification and Green-Up projects around the county.          

The Great American Clean-Up is a nationwide effort to remove litter from the environment. The cleanup starts in April, coinciding with Earth Day, and runs throughout the summer. On Earth Day, April 22, KSRB and volunteers from Milton High School’s NJROTC, Navarre High School’s AFJROTC, The Blackwater Pyrates, Pensacola State College Outdoor Club and many other volunteers filled five 30-yard trash bins, which Waste Pro donated, with litter from roadsides, ditches, wooded areas, and waterways. 

Rivers Clean-Up kicked off at the same time. Many groups and individuals went to the creeks, rivers, bays, and the Gulf to remove litter. 

One of the most active groups is the Blackwater Pyrates, who have been conducting cleanups for several years and have removed several tons of litter including derelict vessels from the Blackwater River system. Local outfitters help by supplying canoes.

The International Coastal Clean-Up is an effort to clean up the ocean. Every September, The Ocean Conservancy conducts a World-Wide cleanup.

One pollution problem is plastic. Most of the plastic in the ocean comes from human activities on land. Some plastic floats, sinks, and some marine life mistakenly consume it. For instance, a main source of food for the leatherback sea turtle is jelly fish. A plastic bag floating in the ocean looks like a jelly fish and can be fatal if a turtle consumes it.

Larger pieces of plastic break down into smaller pieces and marine life too often consume them with fatal results. Every effort made on land and in inland waterways helps reduce pollution in the ocean.           

The Adopt A Spot program is a program where groups, families, and businesses can adopt a portion of public land to keep it clean. Santa Rosa County currently has approximately 130 such areas. These areas include county and city roads, and recreation areas. The Adopt A Highway program operates through the Florida Department of Transportation.

Outreach and education are available to learn about environmental issues. From household hazardous waste to butterfly gardening, KSRB can travel to or host speakers for field trips and presentations on bettering quality of life and the environment. This program is free of charge for all Santa Rosa County residents and visitors.

KSRB also offers free plants, seeds, and other gifts, when available, to encourage people to get involved in nature and environmental causes.

The Panhandle Butterfly House is a joint effort between Santa Rosa County, Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful, and The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Volunteers educate and give an interactive experience with butterflies. Butterflies contribute to the health of the environment as the second largest population of pollinators, second only to bees. Visit panhandlebutterflyhouse.org for more information.   

“I am honored to be a part of this organization and to work for a fantastic board and the people of this community,” KSRB Executive Director Kevin Smith said. “How many times have you heard a visitor say (that) the people here sure are friendly? Well, we are. Santa Rosa County is a great place to live and raise a family. We have beautiful farmland, forest, rivers, bays, and pristine beaches. We owe it to ourselves to at least keep it clean.”

Call Smith at 623-1930 or visit srclean.org, keepamericabeautiful.org, oceanconservancy.org, fdot.gov, leavenotrace.org for more information about these and other programs.