A call to action: Visit to Palmyra Cove Nature Park inspires grassroots effort to clean up the shore

Pam Benkin recently joined the South Jersey Trails Facebook group. When she saw Judy Jengo looking for help to clean up trash at Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Benkin and her daughter, Lauren, were happy to step up. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

Judy Jengo recently visited Palmyra Cove Nature Park for the first time.

The Hopewell resident was taken by the beauty of the serene, 250-acre riverfront park. She was also disheartened by the amount of trash she saw as she walked along the park’s expanse on the Delaware River.

Instead of simply lamenting the litter, Jengo decided to take a page out of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry book and leave the world a bit better.

She learned of the park from South Jersey Trails, a 13,000-plus member Facebook group chock full of recommendations for enjoying the outdoors throughout the region. Jengo returned to the group to share photos of the riverside rubbish and announced her intention to go back to the park on June 25 to clean up what she could.

Calling it a “good action alert,” Jengo welcomed others to join her. And more than a dozen did.

“What happens is you have this extraordinary, gorgeous place, marred sadly by an enormous amount of litter,” Jengo told the small yet determined group before setting out on Thursday.

The group broke into two contingents to cover a one-mile stretch of the river bank, one starting at each end to meet in the middle. Jengo supplied cold drinks and snacks before and after the cleanup, and Palmyra Cove Nature Park left trash bags and trash pickers for the cleanup crew to use.

“I’m so glad (Jengo) organized this,” Jessica Regalbuto said. “This is great.”

Regalbuto and her husband, Vince, brought their three children — Maximus, 5, Vienna, 3, and Sonny, 1 — to the cleanup. Often exploring the outdoors with their kids, the Cherry Hill residents wanted Thursday’s event to be a lesson in environmental stewardship for their kids.

Voorhees resident Jackie Turt motioned toward the Regalbuto children when discussing why she came to the cleanup.

“It’s the future for them,” Turt said. “We should, as a community, be getting together and trying to make a cleaner planet for them.”

The Regalbuto family of Cherry Hill collect trash along the Delaware River at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

While the tide pulled some trash back into the waterway since Jengo’s Sunday visit, there was still plenty throughout the beach to clean up. The trash was largely comprised of plastics — single-use bags and water bottles, straws and wrappers.

“It’s a reflection of our choices. When you see all that plastic — we created it in the first place,” Jengo said. “It really drives home how much of it there is.”

As volunteers Pam Benkin and her daughter, Lauren, made their way down the sand, they pulled trash from the driftwood and foliage. Lauren, a rising junior at Burlington Township High School, is the president of the school’s environmental club.

“I love these types of cleanups,” she said.

Lauren’s mom usually helps organize the local Girl Scout Troop’s involvement in their township’s Earth Day cleanup, canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was inspired to find something else to clean up,” Pam said.

The cleanup got underway shortly after 11 a.m., and things wrapped up about five hours later. As the crew congregated with the fruits of their labor, they had filled more than 20 large trash bags with debris and picked up some items too large for a bag.

Everyone who took part learned of the cleanup from South Jersey Trails. One of those volunteers was Julia Lipeles. The Mickleton resident spends a lot of time running and hiking around South Jersey, and she’s discouraged when she sees trash along her routes. When she saw Jengo’s call to action, the decision to join was easy.

“I just wanted to do something about it,” Lipeles said.