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June 18, 2007

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Heroes of Conservation: Moving Mountains with Kayaks

By Erin Kelley

Kurt Zuelsdorf (at left in the photo below) was irritated when he and 290 volunteers used kayaks to pull 11,000 pounds of garbage from the Clam Bayou Nature Park surrounded by St. Petersburg and City of Gulfport, Fla. Although proud of the 3 months of work, there was one problem:

Zuelsdorf wanted more.


The heaping pile of rotting garbage from the past three months of Zuelsdorf’s cleanups included 25 balding tires, 15 rusting shopping carts, 6 decaying bicycles, a motorcycle, a cell phone, lawn toys, and basketballs and footballs by the hundreds.

But there was more trash in the area that Zuelsdorf describes as a “small-scale Everglade”, so on Saturday he organized a massive cleanup with about 500 volunteers from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. In all, they pulled an additional 9,500 bags of debris and 200 shopping carts from the nature preserve.

In March, Zuelsdorf was recognized as Field and Stream’s weekly Hero of Conservation for his effort.

“It was only a matter of time before someone got blamed for the state of the bayou,” he said. “It’s a shame it had to take 50 years before someone would do something about it.”

A major contribution to the build up of garbage is the storm water runoff that washes out anything in the community’s streets, yards and outdoor malls into the bay, said Zuelsdorf. Although the surrounding cities, St. Petersburg and City of Gulfport, are developing a storm water system, it won’t be ready until 2010; in the meantime, he said it was important to have a maintenance program.

“The funny thing is until I released video, people didn’t believe this was going on,” Zuelsdorf said. “It’s a shame (the cleanup) had to wait for years. All it took was one person to invite a news crew for a little help.”

Zuelsdorf plans on making the program take place twice a month. The next phase includes traveling into the surrounding neighborhoods and offer an educational program one block at a time: In exchange for the families picking up the garbage, Zuelsdorf offers them tours of the bayou. He has tested the idea with a couple of families already.

“They had an absolute blast and started asking me if they could get the neighbors involved,” he said.

With all the attention the media and community have given the cleanup, Zuelsdorf hopes to inspire people to duplicate the project in their hometowns. A young boy brought him a cutout of an advertisement for a bayou cleanup. The ad had encouraged the boy to start a cleanup program at school.

“Out of all, that is the most satisfying,” he said. “To have touched a kid so that they want to do something-it’s priceless.”

Zuelsdorf is using videos on YouTube to encourage people around the nation to enjoy nature as well as pick up trash. Even in a remote place, garbage is still found.


Kristine Shreve

I think this is a great program, and it illustrates that one person can make a difference.

Jim Mason

I'm the guy standing next to Kurt in the photo. The pile in front of us is the result of 6 kayaks, 10 people and 2 hours of work. It all came from only 1 back bayou the size of an average suburban lot. Can you imagine what 500 people for 3 hours did on June 16th!!!!!
I joined this effort because of my Grand Son. We go fishing out in Clam Bayou almost every weekend and if he had his way we'd be out there every day, but seeing this beautiful mangrove swamp in the middle of the most densely populated county in Florida so full of garbage, made me feel like Iron Eyes Cody in his famous litter comercial on TV in the 60s and 70s, a tear for each and every piece of garbage out there, and like the comercial most of the garbage came from litter in the streets and neighborhoods being washed into the storm sewers and out into the bayou every time it rained. I had no choice but to help clean it up. This is a prime example of how 1 person with a vision and a voice can start, on a grass roots level, an entire comunity to become "Green Aware" and do the right thing, to stop the blame and fix the problem.
Spread the word, keep the green dream alive, and make YOUR comunity GREEN.
Thanks for your time

Matt Mallery

I'd like thank you guys for what you have done. It inspires me to become more active around here in Arizona. We have so much junk in the desert, it's ridiculous.


Thanks Kurt,
This epitomizes what it means to be a sportsmen! Now if we could just get the rest of the gunnut sportsmen to see that it isn't all about whether or not they can carry a concealed pistol. Then we'll be in business. Getting them to realize that there are much more pressing issues facing our wildlife and fisheries is a uphill battle. I organized a clean up day on our local river, in my neck of the woods about 3 years ago. What we took out of about a 5-6 block area was very disheartening. I don't know what it is with some people,they see a garbage can?? Where I see pristine fish and wildlife habitat that doesn't need careless waste added to it! Keep up the great work.


What an huge accomplishment!

One person CAN move mountains and the strength and support of a community is amazing.

Very inspiring hero of conservation!

Paula Brockner

Bring back the Bayou by getting rid of the garbage!! What an outstanding program they have going in Florida with the Bayou clean up.

Michelle McIntosh

What Kurt and the "Green Machine," have done with the Bayou is incredible. It is such a shame that more businesses and individuals have not helped to keep the "Bring Back the Bayou" program alive. This is something that affects all of us, yet only a handful of us are doing our part. I am a part of the "Green Machine," and if I could be out there full time cleaning up, I would be. WE NEED HELP PEOPLE! If you don't want to get out there and clean up, then make donations to keep the program going. There are people willing to clean up out there! If you do nothing, then you are part of the problem. Stand for nothing and you will fall for anything! Take a stand! Get involved Today.

Terry Martin

Through my daughter and son-in-law I have been following the progress made in this clean up effort. My regret is that I am not there by their side to help. Keep up the good work - you are making a difference!

Greg M

About three months ago I read an article in the local newspaper about Kurt and his plan on "Bringing Back the Bayou". I was very interested about getting involved. I grew up in the area and never knew there was a bayou there. I met Kurt and he had such a positive energy and was very inspirational. Not only have I been involved with cleaning the bayou I also keep other areas I frequent clean of trash. It has been so rewarding being able to be there and see the progress in the bayou and watching the wildlife come back. That is what it is all about. If you help mother nature out she can do her job and keep the earth alive. THANK YOU KURT!!


Congratulations Kurt! You give me renewed inspiration in a time of cynicism here at County government during budget cuts that a small committed individual/group CAN make a difference!! I keep brainstorming on ideas to fund your continuing efforts seems there have got to be more programs... etc. Maybe boys girls clubs or scouts can assist with the continued maintenance as a project. Maybe DEP has assistance... hmmm. Sierra Club? Good luck and enjoy nature's returnto the bayou!! (until the next storm)

Michelle Kline

I learned about Kurt's mission months ago when I read about his discounted kayaking as long as you brought back a bag of trash. I've lived in St. Pete my entire life and didn't realize we had a mini everglades right in Gulfport. I spoke with Kurt at the cleanup and he is a really nice guy...here's his website...www.kayaknature.com

Team Clockwork

I learned about Kurt's effort to clean up Clam Bayou through a newspaper article printed several months ago. I met him and his dad soon thereafter and was taken by their kind spirits. Several members of my church and I volunteered on June 16th for the mass cleanup. It is a day none of us will soon forget. Seeing all that garbage piled up in the swamp was overwhelming. If all of us would just stop and pick up that one piece of garbage we so often walk or drive past, it would have such a positive impact upon our environment.

Tommy Linn

I've known Mr.Z for a great many years now and can say that once his teeth sink in watch out and he has a big bite into this project. Kurt is a all rond outdoorsman, Fisherman, Hunter, Ecologist and for most and I'm proud to say one of my best friends ( and I dont have many) Keep up the good stuff man. You deserve it all!!!

TommY L.


Kurt's dedication and work ethic should be a inspiration to all of us. His example will be a outline for everyone, in large cities and small to institute their own envirenmental clean up. Whether it be a big stram or little bayou, it's needs people's help. Help Kurt with his program by making a donation, large or small and allow him to continue to bring back the bayou.

Jennifer S.-St. Petersburg, Florida

I was initially inspired by reading a story in a local paper, and called Kurt immediately who was extremely informative. I then recruited two more friends and we had an absolute blast! Kurt's passion for the bayou was contagious which just ignited a pure motivation in me to help in whatever way I could. I have gotten dirty, learned to kayak, learned about more native animals, and made new friends while balancing the ecosystem. What an amazing gift! Thank you Kurt for your passion and your dreams! Keep having both-you are making a difference.

Jerry and Jane Brown

My wife and I were part of the 500 to help out this past Saturday. It is really rewarding to hear of how much debris was removed and that it has already had a positive impact on the area's wildlife. Way to go Kurt for getting the ball rolling.

Carolyn Jimette Cook

Having just started working for the City of St. Pete 2 months ago, I was not surprised to learn of a "clean-up" in the City. After all, St. Pete is the only city in the state to be named a Green City and the emphasis on preserving the environment is one reason I chose to work for this particular municipality.
But, I was amazed at the number of volunteers that turned out. Old and young, singles and couples, hippies,yuppies, and the rest of us all got down and dirty in the mud! It was great... We pulled out all manner of debris..you name it and I'm sure someone picked it up! I'm looking forward to more muddy mornings in St. Pete (until we don't have to do this anymore because there's no more trash).

Kurt Z - Kayak Nature Adventures

I am moved and inspired by all these comments!

I feel compelled to recognize the enormous amount of time that St Pete provided in prepping the site for the June 16th clean up, thank you.
I'm so thankful for the time and efforts of the Green Armada...remarkable.
Thanks to the city of Gulfport for providing shuttles and manpower.

And as for the volunteers...you are the "Green Thread" that binds human nature & mother nature!

It just goes to show you...This program is powered by passionate people and fueled by the growing energy and enthusiasm to protect and preserve our environment!

this could possibly be a good green start.


I bought a house on the moat/canal that feeds into Clam Bayou. I was saddened and embarrassed by the amount of garbage in the canal. I wanted to do something. I walked up and down my street picking up the trash I could reach. But it really never seemed to make a dent. I was thrilled when I read the story about the planned clean-up. I was one of the volunteers on Saturday. I will be back again. I am going to rent a Kayak from Kurt. I will be a part of the restoration of this Bayou. This is my front yard. THANK YOU KURT and The Green Armada and everyone else who mattered in the organization of this event. Other cities take note. This was a proud day for St. Petersburg.


My name is Alyssa and I am 10 years old. I love to go kayaking and clean up the bayou, it is such a rush to see all the birds out there and the turtles in their habitat that they live in. I saw pictures of an otter in the bayou! it is just awesome to see the bayou getting clean moment by moment. I have personally been out there a million times. The cleanup on Saturday was just so awesome and to see that many bags come out of the bayou in just minutes at least 20 bags came out! Growing up in Gulfport I practically grew up in clam bayou it is just so great that I get the chance to see the bayou get clean!


I’ve been part of the bring back the bayou program originated by kurt z from the start and never dreamed it could be this powerful. I watched the other volunteers become passionate with what they saw as they paddled around this beautiful estuary and then come upon a spot littered with a crazy amount of garbage and debri. At that moment, with the help of kurt and his amazing tour guide skills you could watch the change in these people as they realized how that trash got there and how they could make a difference in cleaning it up. You see until you get out in a kayak and experience the peace of gliding low to the water and become part of all that nature, can you really get the tragedy of polluting the streets that will soon be washed into the bayou with the next rain. The storm runoff that collides with nature is truly a tragedy that will hopefully become an awareness through the educational efforts of individuals like kurt z, offering kayaks to help clean up trash is a fun & brilliant way to educate others to keep our earth clean & green.

Bob Dowling

I have known Kurt now about 9 months and have the greatest respect for his dedication to the evironmental clean up of the Clam Bayou Estuary. I have no doubt the entire country would be a much cleaner place if all the states would promote his format for successful Clean up campaigns. His love of nature is evident to all who have volunteered countless hours to assist him in his tireless efforts to re-establish the trashed bayou to it's former pristine condition. The wildlife is already coming back to the bayou in just a few days after the clean up! Let's Go America , we can do it too! Thanks Kurt--:)

Ricky p

What Kurt has done is show all of us how one person CAN make a difference if we just speak up. So often we believe it's someone else's job to do that and so we end up complaining about things rather than be in action. Everyone I know belongs to some community whether it's your church, your softball team or your family. You want a life thats fulfilling? Get your community involved in your hometown to do something like this..I promise you'll get it.

Ricky p

What Kurt has done is show all of us how one person CAN make a difference if we just speak up. So often we believe it's someone else's job to do that and so we end up complaining about things rather than be in action. Everyone I know belongs to some community whether it's your church, your softball team or your family. You want a life thats fulfilling? Get your community involved in your hometown to do something like this..I promise you'll get it.

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