Todd Guild/The Pajaronian Watsonville Wetlands Watch Education Specialist Rodrigo Garcia, left, talks about the wildlife of the local wetlands with Pajaro Valley High School students Jaquelin Jeronimo and Gilberto Carrillo. Both students are leading clean up day efforts at their school as part of the countywide one.

Aptos resident Laura Dover-Smith was walking on a trail in Watsonville’s sloughs on her lunch break one sunny Wednesday, an activity she tries to do daily.

She says the walk affords her views of wildlife, but also gives her a peaceful respite from the bustling city nearby.

“We are lucky to have this gem right here,” she says. “More people should take advantage of this.”

To her dismay, she also often sees trash throughout the area. This includes detritus such as food wrappers and empty drink containers. She has also found old car tires and, once, an old microwave.

On May 11, Dover-Smith will join hundreds of people for the first-of-its kind Santa Cruz County Cleanup Day.

The event, officially called the Pitch-In Initiative, was created by the Trash Talkers Coalition, a sizable group made up of nonprofits, governmental and law enforcement agencies and others.

Sally-Christine Rodgers, who spearheaded the group about two years ago, says she saw numerous organizations addressing the issue of litter, but few of them collaborated with each other. 

This includes the offices of Congressman Panetta, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Assemblyman Robert Rivas, Senator John Laird, Santa Cruz, the cities of Watsonville, Capitola, Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley, CalTrans, Santa Cruz County Community Foundation, the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol and the Santa Cruz County County Office of Education in addition to several schools.

Now, the group has monthly meetings, during which members hone the ways in which they deal with the problem of litter.

“I feel like we live in the most beautiful place on the planet, and I’m just getting tired of seeing all the litter and garbage,” said Rodgers, who has called the Central Coast home her entire life. “We’re allowing trash and litter and cigarette butts to contaminate not only our natural areas, but our psyche. It’s a bummer to see trash all over the place, and it’s time we did something about it.”

Among other things the group has placed “Pitch-In” signs around the county.

“Our goal is to have those signs be our brand to highlight the issue, but also educate and act as a deterrent for people littering,” she said.

They have also installed cameras in north and south county to catch litterers and seek prosecution for illegal dumping.

The Trash Talkers have convinced the Santa Cruz County Supervisors—and city councils in other jurisdictions—to pass resolutions in support of the cleanup day.

Now, the group is doing publicity in hopes of reaching as many people as possible. 

It’s not rocket science. It’s just that we have become complacent,” Rodgers said. “People litter frequently; there is illegal dumping all over the county.”

Modeled after the successful Coastal Cleanup Day, it is a time for everyone to combine their efforts to tackle litter. 

It is also a chance to venture into the harder-to-reach places in the county’s natural areas, said Jonathan Pilch, director of Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW), which has been part of Trash Talkers since its inception.

“The May 11 event is a really incredible opportunity for the community to get together to do a countywide cleanup and take care of our environment in a much more significant way,” he said. “It’s going to keep an incredible amount of trash and debris out of our waterways and out of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and out of our wetlands.”

For WWW’s part, two Pajaro Valley High School students are leading efforts to involve their fellow Grizzlies in cleaning up Harkins and Struve sloughs. 

Senior Jaquelin Jeronimo, 17,  said she sees many people leave their lunch trash around the campus. But that problem could ease if they participate in the cleanup.

“I feel like they don’t understand what they’re doing, and they don’t care,” she said. “I think doing this makes them care a lot more.”

Junior Gilberto Carrillo, 17, agrees. 

“They don’t know to do better,” he said. “They need to be informed.”

Carrillo said his involvement with WWW has already inspired him.

“I feel like getting more involved in my community,” he said. “I want to do more.”

For information, visit

Previous articleWatsonville’s Nate Aguilar, Amelia Martinez named Preps of the Week | Pajaronian Sports Ticker
Next articleHelping hands make prom happen
General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here