FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. – The Fourth of July is a pretty big holiday in Flagler Beach. The day starts with a parade and tourists flock to the coquina sand beach.
But one group of community service volunteers has made July 5 pretty special too. The Flagler Beach All-Stars have created a tradition of cleaning the beaches the morning after the party ends.
Suzie Johnston stood at the entrance to the iconic Flagler Beach pier. The A-frame construction provided plenty of shade on an unusually warm morning.
“We really need volunteers today,” said Johnston, as she waited for the first people to arrive. She has been part of the Flagler Beach All-Stars for years.
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She’s also mayor of the city of Flagler Beach, so she knows a holiday weekend means more trash than usual gets left behind.
“We have this beach cleanup every year after everyone has had a fun celebration,” Johnston said. “So we’ll find leftover fireworks debris, cigarette butts, items that have been left behind after a long festive day.”
Moments later volunteers start arriving and Johnston hands each one a trash bag. The crowd includes everyone from high school students looking to accumulate service hours, Girls Scouts Troop 2413 and a few locals taking advantage of a program that lets you satisfy parking tickets with service hours.
“Everyone here is an all-star,” Johnston said. “Because we show up to keep our beach clean.”
Tiffany Wiggen was there with a handful of players from her youth soccer team.
“Teaching the kids to give back to the community is really important and it’s so cool to see so many others share that testament,” Wiggen said.
Wiggen gathered the group together before heading down the boardwalk and out onto the beach.
“It always happens, people are going to leave things on the beach, but the beauty of this group is we don’t concentrate on that. We just worry about what we can do to solve this issue,” Wiggen said. “Unfortunately, if we weren’t here, all the fireworks debris and cigarette butts and all the other trash that was left would wash away back into the ocean.”
Wiggen and the girls walk by one of the new signs posted on the boardwalk letting beachgoers know of a new smoke free ordinance passed in January.
“I hope we see a difference,” Wiggen said. “Unfortunately, it’s what we’ll see the most of and we won’t make a dent in it. I think the ordinance will greatly affect the amount we find. We bring back bags full of them each time we do a beach cleanup.”
Johnston told News 6 the all-stars can collect up to 70 pounds of trash on a typical outing, which is enough to fill three large city trash cans.
Carla Cline helped start the Flagler All-Stars seven years ago.
“It was a way to do something positive in Flagler Beach,” Cline said. “People who show up each month are all-stars.”
Cline said she’s earned a reputation in the small beach community.
“I’m known as the woman combing the parking lots, picking up cigarette butts,” she said with a laugh. “It drives me insane. People who are smart enough to get a driver’s license should know not to leave their trash at the beach.”
After about two hours, the volunteers had collected enough trash to fill a couple of large trash cans. Nothing out of the ordinary, mostly food wrappers, water bottles, fireworks and plenty of cigarette butts.
“How do you trash something that you think is so gorgeous?” Cline said. “There are trash receptacles. You don’t even have to take a few steps.”
But as long as the Flagler All-Stars keep showing up, there’s something to celebrate.
The All-Stars do beach cleanups on the first Saturday of each month and also large item cleanups after major storms. You can find them on Facebook here.
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