MILTON — On Saturday, the Blackwater Pyrates conducted their 13th annual river cleanup. The cleanup focused on removing trash from Wright’s Basin south to the mouth of Blackwater Bay.
Pyrate event coordinator Jody Conrad, known to the Pyrates as “Big Al,” said that 15 boats carrying 54 volunteers participated in the event. Nearly 2,000 pounds of trash were delivered to a dumpster provided by Green Up Santa Rosa.
Conrad said, “It is amazing the amount and types of trash that make it into our waterways. This year we hauled in an intact pickup truck bed liner and half of a boat. We also pulled out tires and plastic lawn furniture. The worst offender, by far though, is anything that once contained a beverage. Apparently people think that once they have consumed their beer, coke, or water, the container they toss in the river will simply disappear.”
The cleanup is generally held in April to coincide with Earth Day. While volunteers nationwide are collecting trash along beaches and roadways to commemorate Earth Day, the Blackwater Pyrates focus on an area that most people cannot access: our waterways. Though the coordinated cleanup day happens in April, boaters along the river can see the Pyrates at work year round keeping our waterways clean.
The cleanup is only one way the Pyrates give back to their community. According to Mark Flores, leader of the Blackwater Pyrates and known by his moniker “Captain Murky,” the organization has three core missions: boater safety, maritime history, and river cleanup.
“The Pyrates fill a niche in the community by actively going where many residents cannot,” Flores said. “We have removed tons of trash from the waterways over the years, and in the event that some unscrupulous individual dumps or abandons a vessel, we will respond alongside Florida Wildlife Commission and county connections to refloat the boats and have them properly disposed of. A clean Blackwater River is a major source of pride with us and we will work many hours to make sure the river stays that way.”
The Pyrates also conduct an upper river cleanup in the fall. This event takes place via canoes and kayaks in areas inaccessible to power boats. According to Flores, trash is removed from sandbars, log jams, and the river bottom, because “any trash on the upper river eventually makes its way to the lower river.”
Other upcoming events for the Blackwater Pyrates include the second annual Poker Run, a boating event that provides funds for the Florida Maritime Heritage Trail. Last year the Pyrates worked with Bagdad Waterfront Historical Partnership to educate local boaters about an historic Civil War event known as “Beard’s Run,” during which Bagdad and Milton’s thriving sawmill industry was destroyed. This year the two groups will educate participants about shipwrecks along the Blackwater River. The Poker Run is scheduled for April 27 and registration forms are available on the Pyrate’s website.
On May 18th, the Pyrates will again offer free boater safety inspections to the public, and participate in the annual Blessing of the Fleet event. Inspections will take place in the a.m., and the Blessing of the Fleet will commence at 1 p.m. Both events will be held at Veteran’s Memorial Park in downtown Milton.
Anyone who would like to learn more about the Blackwater Pyrates, the Poker Run, or other upcoming events should check their website, www.blackwaterpyrates.com.