‘Any positive thing we can do:’ Volunteers clean up Mac Beach

International Coastal Cleanup Day draws 80 to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.

MacArthur Beach cleanup

Since 2018, volunteers have pulled 3,000 pounds of trash off the beach at the John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.

On Saturday, about 80 volunteers came out for International Coastal Cleanup Day, braved stormy skies, and added another 172 pounds to the total.

Doesn’t sound like much but the pickings were scarce. 

“Some things are very tiny and I can’t pick them up,” volunteer PJ Sullivan, 9, told his grandmother to explain using his ungloved hand rather than a claw-like pincer to grab a scrap. 

MacArthur Beach State Park
Susan Sullivan bends to pick a sliver of debris off MacArthur Beach State Park, while her grandson, PJ, looks on. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

PJ is a cleanup veteran. He attended the summer camp offered at the state park at the eastern edge of PGA Boulevard on Singer Island. His grandmother, Susan Sullivan of Palm Beach Gardens, appreciated his effort.

“The environment is really suffering. Any positive thing we can do, we should do,” she said, while watching PJ place another sliver of plastic into his bucket. “It’s such a beautiful park. We want to keep it that way.”

John D. MacArthur
The bust at Mac Beach of John D. MacArthur, who loved skinny dipping there. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Mac Beach was a favorite nude swimming hole for Gardens founder John D. MacArthur. After his death in 1978, he gave it to his foundation, which proposed building 600 homes on the mangrove-lined slice of beach and waterway. 

Under stiff criticism, the foundation agreed to allow the land to be preserved, selling it to the state for $23.12 million. To get a tax credit, the foundation donated 82 acres to Palm Beach County, including a mile of beachfront, a gift it valued at an additional $22.1 million.

The beach is among the most isolated in north county, as visitors must pay a park entrance fee of $5 and cross a one-third mile bridge over a stunning estuary to go swimming. It also offers kayak and paddle board rentals.

Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park formed in 1990 to protect and maintain the 436-acre park, which includes Munyon Island to the south. The Friends not only weigh the debris volunteers cart off the beach, they send it to researchers to document what is washing ashore.

MacArthur Beach State Park
Veronica Frehm, executive director of Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park, demonstrates the scale for weighing trash that volunteers remove from the beach. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
Mac Beach
Buckets await volunteers at Mac Beach Saturday. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Most of the debris is small, Friends Executive Director Veronica Frehm said. “Micro is important, but light,” she said, standing near a scale off the boardwalk on the parking lot side of the park. “Anybody can come and help,” she added.

For Julie Miles, Friends board president and a Stuart resident, it’s all about preserving paradise. 

“To me, coming to Mac Beach is a relaxing step back in time to Old Florida,” she said. “I want my grandchildren to be able to do the same thing.”

The cleanup day, sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, has tapped 17 million volunteers to collect more than 348 million pounds of trash worldwide since 1986.

International Coastal Cleanup Day
Nearly two dozen FAU students helped clean MacArthur Beach State Park Saturday as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

For the 20 or so Florida Atlantic University students who came to Mac Beach to help, the visit would add to their community service hours. But it also opened some eyes.

Mac Beach
Education Director Sarah Norton hauled a wooden board off the beach Saturday at MacArthur Beach State Park. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Isabella Passanisi, an FAU Honors College marine biology major, has enough volunteer hours already but came out anyway. Pickings were slim, she said, but “the smaller trash, that’s such a problem for the ecosystem.”

As dark skies and distant lightning forced volunteers to retreat from the park’s 1.6-mile-long beach, Odette Terrazas, a junior writing major, told a friend, “I think Juno is worse. We might go there after.”

Mac Beach cleanup
Michelle Casagni displays a twisted tube removed Saturday from Mac Beach. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Back at the beachside launch point, Sarah Gore, an intern at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Martin County, exclaimed “What is that? Is that a bike handle?” about a particularly odd, mangled, black tube-like item dragged back by a volunteer. 

“We got a toy dolphin. A sock,” added Michelle Casagni, a Lake Park software engineer volunteering with the state park service. “We get some strange stuff.”

What’s next? How about FireFest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park? It’s 1 to 9 p.m. Oct. 15 with live music, hay rides and a bounce house, where visitors can see a prescribed burn and learn about fire safety. 

© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

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Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

One thought on “‘Any positive thing we can do:’ Volunteers clean up Mac Beach”

  1. Thank you for the picture and our quotes! It really made our day a special grandma and grandson day and we helped clean up the beach too! I like what you are doing for Gardens people. We come from a small town in Ct that had its own paper and I miss the really local news we used to get. So I’m happy you are focused on Gardens news! Susan Sullivan

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