Diana Carriker stepped carefully in Dyke Marsh, the largest remaining piece of freshwater tidal wetlands in the Washington Metropolitan area. Brandishing her Park Service litter picker — a four-foot mechanical claw — she reached into the swampy morass. Grasping the handle of the claw, she unearthed an industrial chunk of Styrofoam and flung it toward Drew Smith.
"Eeew," exclaimed Smith, depositing the mystery litter into a trash bag.
Carriker and Smith are members of the National Honor Society at West Potomac High School, a group that organizes an annual community-service project. Last year, the group spent a day painting a low-income housing complex. This year, they waded into the wetlands of Dyke Marsh to remove litter that collects in the Potomac floodlads. For Carriker, the first piece of litter she tackled looked like something that had been used to pack some sort of shipment.
"It was very soggy," said Carriker, a senior at West Potomac.
"Look at all the stuff that people throw into the river," said Smith, a senior. "People have no respect for the environment they live in."
THE CLEANUP removed a host of manmade debris from the tidal marsh: Pepsi bottles, old tires, beer cans, mysterious plastic objects, a softball, a rubber duck and at least one shoe. According to Hunter Link, the society’s community service representative, members of the group were eager to find a project that would held the environment.
"I wanted to do a book drive," admitted Link, a junior. "But we took a poll, and most people wanted to bring attention to environmental issues."
After tabulating the results of the poll, Link started planning for the cleanup at Dyke Marsh. He got in contact with National Park Service, which owns the land, and mobilized the students at the school for the Saturday cleanup. As students fanned out into the marsh, they confronted the immediate task with a sense of long-term urgency.
"A lot of us feel like our parents and our leaders are not doing enough to protect the environment," said Eric Trouton, a senior. "There seems to be this old way of thinking that we do not need to change our lifestyles, but if we don’t take care of our environment now it won’t be there for us in the future."